NCAA Final Four Q&A with Joe Asher, Sports Betting Industry Titan

Recently, interviewed Joe Asher, president of sports betting for IGT PlaySports. Asher is one of the founders of sports betting in America. He started off calling horse races in Delaware, forming Brandywine Racing, which eventually got into sports betting. He’s covered dozens of Final Fours, Super Bowls and other huge sporting events and agreed to share his views on Saturday’s Final Four with Roger Gros, president of iGaming Player.

A Wealth of Experience

iGaming Player: I don’t think I could have anybody with more expertise to than you to talk about March Madness, because you’ve been looking at it for years.

Joe Asher: Great to be with you. And this year in particular, it’s well named. It has been just crazy.

iGP: For sure. I can’t believe that the Final Four will be any better than the Elite Eight. Almost everything went down to the wire. So, what does it tell you when you have a tournament that’s wide open, where a 16 (seed) beats a 1, and 15 beats 2—what does that tell you about the field?

JA: It’s fascinating. As they say in football, any given Sunday, right? Any given game, anything can happen. And clearly, the seedings have not been a hurdle for some of these teams to overcome. You also wonder whether the transfer portal and NIL in some aspects—what role, if any, does that have in this sort of thing. But it’s just been an incredible few weeks.

Bet $1 at Bet365 and get $200 in free bets! Just sign up and make a deposit of $10 or more, claim the offer, place a $1 bet and the $200 in free bets will be added to your account.

Transfer Portal Playing Role in Upsets

iGP: Has there ever been a Final Four with no team ranked No. 5 or higher?

JA: If there has, it’s been a long time. This is the first time, obviously, since they started doing the rankings that none of the No. 1 seeds made it to the Elite Eight. I read somewhere that there were like 20 people out of some 30 million who had the Final Four. If you got one of the Final Four, maybe you could have had UConn, but you’re pretty sharp. If you had San Diego State or Miami, or Florida Atlantic for anything other than that’s where you went so you’re rooting for your team.

The fact that the games were so good—only UConn was dominant. You had to stick around to see the end of every game just to see if they’d come back.

iGP: What does that tell you about UConn? Are they the favorites because of that?

JA: Oh, yeah, they’re the big favorite out of the four teams left. And, I think they were about three-point favorites over Gonzaga, so relatively close. But obviously that was the one game that really wasn’t in doubt after the first 10 minutes or so. I will say, though, the Miami comeback was incredible. They were down double digits to come back.

Future of NCAA Conferences

iGP:  You mentioned the transfer portal. What does it say about the shuffling of the conferences? Have the teams gotten used to playing the new teams, particularly in the ACC and the Big East, which of course used to be the dominant powerhouses? Now you’ve got some small powerhouses, although some have never been there before. And I don’t know if you can call Conference USA or Mountain West a powerhouse but can you read anything into this?

JA: I don’t know; it’s just all so new. I want to give it another couple of years to really see how it plays out. Obviously, from a betting standpoint, teams like Duke and Kansas going down early took out some of the futures liability. Obviously, some people were pretty high on Alabama and Houston. And you know, the fact that they didn’t get down to the end took some people out. But I think any of these broader questions about the impact of the portal and the conference realignments and all that, I’d prefer to give it another year, maybe two, to draw judgments.

I have a friend who went to Tennessee, and he was cheering, of course, as loud as anybody when Tennessee beat Duke. But then, how can you justify Florida Atlantic beating Tennessee? It just seems like everything was topsy-turvy.

And you know, obviously, for a team to make it to the Final Four, they’re on quite a run. And, it’s not just one game, right? It’s not just FA beating Tennessee. They’ve been on a run. I actually had lunch with a guy on Friday who had a futures ticket on K State, and he was all excited about K State, and they went down. I know another guy who’s actually got a futures ticket on Miami at 150-to-1. And he’s still alive, and I think he’s starting to hedge, so he’ll wind up with a nice little profit.

JA: Yeah, that’s crazy. We’ve seen some incredible individual performances, too.

iGP: Do you have any tips just from watching those individual players play about who might be named the MVP?

Obviously, it’s going to be derivative on who wins the whole thing. And obviously, you’ve got to be on board the UConn train at present, but we’re just seeing that anything can happen.

For a limited time at Tipico Sportsbook, new users can double their first deposit with an instant 100% deposit bonus match up to $100. Just sign up and make your first deposit, which is then matched.

Increase in Wagering

iGP: How has the tournament been for the books in terms of volume?

JA: What I’m kind of picking up from talking to folks within the industry is it’s been a pretty good tournament. I mean, you haven’t had the dominance of No. 1 seeds, or some big futures liability on somebody like Duke, as you would traditionally get. And there have been a lot of favorites who have won and covered as well. And there was a big move on San Diego State, for instance, in their last game. So I don’t know if that was particularly a winner for the books. UConn obviously has not been a winner of late for the books. So I think it’s been a pretty good tournament for the books, but it’s not like they’re printing money. They’re doing pretty well. But you know, the public’s won their fair share of games too.

iGP: This is really only the third year the public has been able to bet legally on March Madness. Did you still see the desire to bet on things like office pools that were always popular in the old days?

JA: Well, I think people are still betting their office pools, from everything I’ve heard. now they’re just betting with their legal bookmaker in a majority of states now. But I think the betting’s been pretty brisk. I think obviously, the Sweet 16 round and the Elite Eight here in Vegas for the first time ever was pretty popular. It was a huge weekend in Vegas this past weekend too, because you had Taylor Swift as well as the basketball. So it was pretty busy down on the Strip.

iGP: How about seeing it in Vegas for the first time ever? Was that kind of like a mindblower?

JA: Yes. And wait until the Final Four is here. A decade ago, the idea that you’d have March Madness in Las Vegas in particular, because it was college sports? Or the Super Bowl coming to town early next year? It’s hard to imagine a better Pro Bowl destination than Las Vegas. If you want to get players to come to the Pro Bowl, having it in Vegas is where you want to be. So yes, the evolution around the role of Las Vegas in sports has been fascinating to watch, for sure.

iGP: How about the women’s March Madness? Are you seeing more interest in that, especially as the men’s bracket winds down?

JA: Women’s basketball has just continued to grow in popularity. It obviously doesn’t approach anything close to the men’s tournament. I mean, obviously, the story on the women’s was UConn getting knocked out. But I do think as a general rule, the interest is clearly higher more recently than it historically would’ve been. And maybe part of that is obviously is a follow-through from the WNBA. Speaking of which, now you get Tom Brady as a co-owner of the Las Vegas Aces. So that cross pollination around sports continues.

Joe, thanks for taking the time. Our readers are going to get a lot out of this and hopefully they’ll win a little bit more than they lose at the end of the run here.

New customers at BetMGM start with a first-bet offer, up to $1000. Simply sign up, make a deposit and place your first wager. If the bet loses, you’ll receive the amount of your wager back in Bonus bets.



Related Articles

Subscribe to Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest online gaming and sports betting promotions, news, and information.

History Playbook

On This Day In Sports

August 1, 1972 — Padres first baseman Nate Colbert ties a major league record by belting five home runs off five different pitchers during a doubleheader against the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

On This Day In Sports

August 3, 2019 — Four Astros pitchers combine for a no-hitter to crush the Mariners 9-0 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Aaron Sanchez starts and hurls six innings. Will Harris, Joe Biagini, and Chris Devenski each contribute a hitless inning.