March Madness fuels Florida sports betting craze

As March Madness reaches a peak, so too, it seems, will Florida’s fervor over online sports betting.

The legalization of sports betting has taken an annual event already steeped in gambling even further. For bettors, it’s the perfect time of year: so many teams are competing at once that if you lose money, you can always bet on another one, or just bet on multiple games at the same time. The Seminole Tribe’s sports betting app, the only legal app in Florida, is offering daily deals through a March Madness-centered marketing campaign coupled with relentless ads on social media.

“It’s kind of a culmination that’s built up throughout the season,” said Jared Casto, 42, an avid sports bettor based in Davie who says his best friend takes off work just to gamble on the games. “… It just makes it exciting, all the games going on. It’s like a gambler’s paradise, really.”

A patron celebrates his winning bet in the Michigan State NCAA March Madness game at the Hard Rock Sports Bar in Davie on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

Last year, sports bettors had to travel to Vegas, download offshore apps, or find local bookies in order to cash in on March Madness. Now, with a swipe of the finger, they can bet as much money as they like at all hours of the night and in the comfort of their bedrooms.

A patron celebrates his winning bet in the Michigan State NCAA March Madness game at the Hard Rock Sports Bar in Davie on March 21, 2024.But that kind of accessibility also comes at a cost: Calls to Florida’s gambling addiction hotline have surged since the app launched in December, and experts predict that high interest times like March Madness may drive more vulnerable people to addiction.

Sports betting already had surged in interest since online betting launched to all Floridians over the age of 21 last December, drawing new users and longtime gamblers alike.

The Hard Rock Bet app, Florida’s only legal app operated by the Seminole Tribe, has amassed over 74,000 reviews since its launch and is currently ranked 18th in the Apple Store’s sports app category. Its account on X, which shares winning bets, offers and memes and clips of players, has close to 40,000 followers.

The company has capitalized off of the excitement surrounding college basketball and its star players.

This month, Hard Rock Bet launched a “Ballapalooza” marketing campaign with deals and offers for new and existing bettors both on the app and on social media. Local Hard Rock and Seminole casinos are also hosting watch parties, said Jon Chapper, a spokesperson for Hard Rock Bet.