A Beginner’s Guide On Betting This Year’s March Madness Tournament

March 17, 2019
NCAA basketball tournament how to

March Madness will be even crazier in Pennsylvania this year.

That’s because the launch of legal PA sports betting in the Commonwealth means you can now bet on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament at Pennsylvania sportsbooks.

That’s right, the annual 64-team, win-or-go-home tournament that determines US college basketball’s national champion every year is now something you can spend three weeks wagering on.

The 2019 tournament is the NCAA’s 81st, but it also marks be the first time Pennsylvania sportsbooks will be taking bets on March Madness game.

Where to bet on March Madness in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) approved the launch of eight retail sportsbooks in advance of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. They are:

Presque Isle Downs & Casino is the only other PA casino sportsbook conditionally approved to launch that did not get through testing in time for the NCAA basketball tournament and the influx in basketball betting.

There is no online betting this year, but several properties like Parx, SugarHouse, and Rivers offer what are called “bet builder” apps. These allow bettors to put together their betting tickets on their phone or computer to scan once they get to the sportsbook. You can also take advantage of betting kiosks on properties to cut down your time in line.

Most of the casinos with sportsbooks are offering some great March Madness viewing parties. There is a little something for everyone, so take a look at which property is offering what when planning your weekend.

How to bet on March Madness in Pennsylvania

There are several different ways you can bet on March Madness at retail sportsbooks in Pennsylvania, including:


NCAA tournament brackets are the traditional way most Pennsylvanians have always bet on March Madness. It usually involves filling out a 63-game bracket sheet and entering it an office pool or similar contest at a local bar.

This year, both DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook are offering free bracket contests with $64,000 and $250,000 prize pools, respectively. They are available to anyone in the US.

Brackets are obviously a fun way to get in on all the March Madness action. Plus, you don’t have to be right on every game, you just have to be right more often than everyone else in the pool.


Futures are bets where the outcome is not determined until a later date. This often means betting who will win the National Championship before the start of the season. However, Pennsylvania sportsbooks will book futures bets on college basketball teams throughout the regular season and into the NCAA tournament.

This is a great way to bet on March Madness before the tournament starts, and even before the teams are selected. In fact, you can put down a bet on who you think will win the National Championship at any time. In most cases, the earlier in the season you do, the better the odds will be.


Pennsylvania sportsbooks will most likely set moneylines for every March Madness game.

Betting moneylines is easy: You just pick the team you think will win. You’ll see either a positive (+) or negative (-) number posted beside each team. These are the odds and tell you how much you’ll get paid if your bet wins.

The favorite has a negative number beside it, representing how much you’ll need to bet to win $100 plus your bet back. The underdog has a positive number beside it, representing how much you’ll win for every $100 you bet.


College basketball spreads are similar to the point spread in a football game.

Pennsylvania sportsbooks come up with a number of points it believes the favorite will win by. It must be factored into the final score in determining if a bet is a winner.

Pennsylvania sportsbooks will post the line on all March Madness games with a negative (-) number beside the favorite and the same positive (+) number beside the underdog.

You’ll have to deduct the number from the favorite’s final score or add it to the underdog’s, before determining who is the betting winner. To put it another way, the favorite needs to win by more than the spread for bets on that team to pay. Bets on the underdog will pay if the team wins outright, or loses by less than the posted spread.

It’s easy; you just need to pick the winner with the posted spread factored in.


College basketball totals are just like the over/under in a football game.

Pennsylvania sportsbooks set a line on the total number of points both teams in a game will score. You bet whether the final score will be over or under that total.

Like spreads, sportsbooks typically make the odds -110 on totals. That means whether you take the over or the under, you’ll have to bet $110 to win $100 plus your bet back.


Pennsylvania sportsbooks will give you the opportunity for a bigger payday by combining two or more March Madness bets into a parlay. Parlays pay better than individual game bets. However, you must win every single bet that is part of it to win the parlay.

Do not confuse March Madness parlays with traditional brackets. Filling out a bracket sheet involves making multiple picks like a parlay. However, you enter the sheet in a pool and you don’t have to win every game to win the pool. A parlay will not pay out unless you win every game that is a part of it.

March Madness betting trends

The American Gaming Association (AGA) claims Americans bet more than $10 billion on March Madness games annually. Up until now, most of it was bet illegally, through brackets, bookies, and offshore online sportsbooks.

In fact, the AGA also estimates Americans bet $3 billion a year on March Madness brackets, which are illegal in most states.

Of course, that’s all about to change in 2019, with Pennsylvania and several other states having now joined Nevada in launching legal sports betting ahead of the 2019 NCAA tournament.

Betting on the NCAA March Madness brackets is so ingrained in American culture that those numbers aren’t likely to change. However, the percentage of the estimated $10 billion Americans bet legally on the NCAA tournament should rise substantially this year.

About March Madness

The NCAA selects 68 teams to play in the NCAA tournament every year. The first 32 are automatic bids given to the teams that win their conference tournament.

The remaining 36 teams are at-large bids picked to play by the NCAA Selection Committee.

That same Committee seeds the 68-team field and the four lowest-seeded conference tournament winners and four lowest-seeded at-large teams are asked to play in the First Four.

The NCAA reveals the field and seeding on Selection Sunday. In 2019, the NCAA will host Selection Sunday on Sunday, March 17.

The winners of the first four games advance to the NCAA Tournament’s first round. In 2019, the NCAA is holding the first four in Dayton, Ohio on March 19 and 20.

That will give the NCAA 64 teams entering the first round of the tournament.

The NCAA places the teams into four 16-team regions: East, Midwest, West, and South. It seeds each region No. 1 through No. 16 and places the first-round games in brackets that give the top seeds the chance to play the lowest seed possible in every subsequent round. That is, as long as there are no upsets on the other side of the bracket.

The madness begins

The tournament begins with 48 first and second round games played in the first four days, hence the March Madness moniker. In 2019, those four days will be March 21 through 24.

In each region, the No. 1 seed begins with a game against the No. 16 seed, No. 2 plays No. 15, and so on.

Winners advance to the second round. The winner of No. 1 vs. No. 16 plays the winner of No. 8 vs. No. 9, the No. 2 vs. No. 15 winner plays the winner of No. 7 vs. No. 10, and so on.

After the second-round games, there are 16 teams left. These teams advance to the Regional Semifinals, also known as the Sweet 16.

Sweet 16 games are held the following weekend (March 28 and 29 in 2019) with the eight winners moving on to the Regional Finals or Elite Eight. Elite Eight games are also held that second weekend (March 30 and 31 in 2019) and the winners advance to the National Semifinals or Final Four.

The Final Four is held on the very next Saturday (April 6), and the two winners play in the championship two days later (April 8).

March Madness betting tips

Before 2018, no top seed had ever lost to a No. 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Then Maryland-Baltimore County beat Virginia 74-54 ending a 135-game winning streak for No. 1 seeds.

While it proved March Madness miracles can happen, it also highlighted how rare they are. The 2018 NCAA tournament was an outlier with several top seeds falling early. However, if you’re looking to identify trends, you’ll find history proves the top four seeds almost always win in the first two rounds.

Upsets start to happen when you get down to the No. 5 vs. No. 12 match-up. In fact, it’s rather surprising, but No. 12 seeds win more than 65 percent of the time in these games. The No. 10 and No. 11 seeds often play above their seeding in the early rounds as well.

The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are the rounds where oddsmakers get wise, but that just means you can too. Watching early round games will give you all the information you need to see who the most talented and hottest teams are.

The teams that are playing the best are always the better bets in these rounds. Look closer at how a team is playing than its seeding to succeed betting the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Finally, the Final Four and Championship game gives oddsmakers just four teams to think and they almost always get it right. Here’s where shopping around at different sportsbooks for the best price on your bets is the place to find value.

It’s also the time you can lean on the NCAA seeding again to make your picks. Historically, the higher-seeded team wins almost 75 percent of the time in the Final Four.

Watching March Madness in Pennsylvania

March Madness is covered by CBS. The CBS television affiliates in Pennsylvania are:

  • Altoona – WTAJ-TV 10
  • Erie – WSEE-TV 35
  • Harrisburg – WHP-TV 21
  • Philadelphia – KYW-TV 3
  • Pittsburgh – KDKA-TV 2
  • Scranton – WYOU 22

Plus, check online with CBSsports.com for live streaming options.

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