Just a few years ago, the idea of a Final Four in Las Vegas would have been laughable.
But the rise of US sports betting will make the Final Four in Sin City possible. The NCAA announced Tuesday that the 2028 men’s NCAA Tournament will culminate with a Final Four at Allegiant Stadium.
The NCAA, long opposed to sports betting and still often keeping it at arm’s length, was not open to championship-level events in Nevada prior to the lifting of the federal sports betting ban in 2018. (The organization does not run events like the Las Vegas Bowl or conference championships that already took place in the state.)
But that stance has softened with the proliferation of sports betting across the country, and with other official NCAA events slated for Nevada. But this will be by far the biggest profile NCAA event to take place.
The announcement came with three other locations: Detroit in 2027, Indianapolis in 2029 and North Texas in 2030.
“We are excited to bring the NCAA’s premier championship to Las Vegas, a city that for a number of years has hosted numerous championships from several member conferences. The feedback from leagues, the fans of their teams and the media covering the events staged there has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are confident we’ll get the same reviews when the Men’s Final Four is played at Allegiant Stadium.”Chris Reynolds, Bradley athletics director and NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball committee chair.
The unthinkable has happened
The NCAA was the lead and title plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the state looked to legalize sports betting.
NCAA President Mark Emmert even said sports betting would cause “irreparable harm” to college sports. Even just a few years ago, Emmert was sounding alarm bells about the presence of legal and regulated gambling:
“Sports wagering is going to have a dramatic impact on everything we do in college sports,” Emmert said. “It’s going to threaten the integrity of college sports in many ways unless we are willing to act boldly and strongly.”
Prior to the fall of sports betting ban, the NCAA created a fairly bright line on the matter of events in jurisidictions with any type of sports gambling. The NCAA was keeping events out of New Jersey based just on the state trying to legalize sports betting. It had also successfully gotten Oregon to stop its Sports Action product, which did not even allow gambling on college sports, before the state could host NCAA-level events.
In the end, the NCAA lost the case with a May 2018 US Supreme Court ruling and has rapidly changed the tune of its long-time stance against sports betting. In 2019, the NCAA axed a ban on championships in states with legal sports betting, including Nevada, creating the pathway for Tuesday’s announcement.
Like NFL betting, March Madness is one of the busiest times of the year for US sportsbooks.
Championships galore in Las Vegas
Las Vegas will also host the 2023 West Regional during March Madness, a site announced in 2020. The city is also slated to host nine NCAA Championships before 2026.
The city has also become a hub for college basketball tournaments, both in-season and conference championships.
Likewise, the Pac-12 Conference has turned Las Vegas into a home base of sorts for many of its marquee events.
College sports betting deals aplenty
Money is also flowing into university coffers since the PASPA ruling in 2018. PointsBet has inked deals with the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland.
Caesars Sportsbook has saddled up with Louisiana State University and Michigan State University.
Earlier this year, the NCAA also opened the lane for conference sports betting data deals.
Professional sports also finding way to Las Vegas
The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights started play in 2017, helping turn the tide for professional sports in Las Vegas even before the PASPA decision. Then, the Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas and plenty of MLB and NBA rumors have swirled about in Southern Nevada.
Beyond teams making their way to the growing metropolis, the NFL also hosted its 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas and will host the 2024 Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium.
The growth of professional sports in Nevada is, like the NCAA, an about-face from years of staunch anti-sports betting rhetoric.