Best NCAA March Madness Bracket Contests

Even if you don’t normally bet on sports, you’ve likely participated in a March Madness bracket pool before. You know the one: you throw in a couple of bucks among friends or at the office, and then try to pick all 63 games of the NCAA Tournament correctly before it even begins.

Once online sportsbooks are legal in Ohio, you’ll be able to add both free and paid NCAA bracket contests at online sportsbooks to the mix. (Or, if you’re tired of seeing your bracket busted within the first few games, bet on individual March Madness games instead).

See below for all the best new, legal March Madness bracket contests at Ohio online sportsbooks.

Best free March Madness bracket contests in Ohio

Free March Madness bracket contests are popular because you can win real cash without risking any of your own money. Usually, they are large-field contests where the odds of winning are low, but there’s no risk, so they are always worth throwing a bracket in.

Here are a few of the major contests run by major online sportsbooks in the US in recent years.

BetMGM $2 Million Perfect Bracket Contest

BetMGM’s offering is the most eye-popping even though the odds of hitting a perfect bracket are, well, low. Very low.

Still, if nobody produces a perfect bracket, BetMGM Sportsbook Ohio would guarantee a $100,000 prize pool spread among the top finishers.

DraftKings $1 Million March Madness Survivor Pool

DraftKings Sportsbook in Ohio has multiple NCAA March Madness bracket contests to pick from, highlighted by its $1 Million Survivor Pool, which is a rarity for March Madness.

Survivor pools are popular in the NFL, but they do also work for March Madness. You must pick one team to win every day of the tournament. Once you pick a team, you cannot use it again. If your team wins, you survive to the next day of the competition.

Additionally, DraftKings has a standard $50,000 March Madness Bracket Challenge. Simply pick the winner of all 63 tournament games, and the most accurate brackets pay out.

The most accurate bracket wins $5,000, with prizes awarded in descending fashion to other top finishers.

DraftKings $16K Second-Chance Bracket Contests

The most frustrating aspect of bracket building is the high likelihood yours will be cooked after the first or second day of the tournament. Upsets are part of what makes March Madness so special, and high-profile teams bow out early all the time.

Usually, people have these teams making deep runs in the tournament. Once such schools are eliminated, they can no longer earn you points, and your maximum potential points drop drastically.

Thankfully, sportsbooks have devised a way to help those with shattered brackets back in the game. DraftKings, for one, typically offers a $16,000 Second Chance Bracket Contest.

At the start of the Sweet 16, you can submit a new bracket. Instead of having to pick 63 games correctly, now you need to nail only 15. You are not penalized for how poorly your original bracket performed. You can re-engage with the tournament at a point when many have lost all rooting interest.

Look for more Second Chance contests available at other major Ohio online sportsbooks including Fanduel Sportsbook Ohio.

How are March Madness brackets scored?

Most brackets are scored with the traditional bracket system. First-round games are worth one point. Second-round games are worth two. Games in the Sweet 16 are worth four points, while Elite 8 winners net eight points. Picking a correct Final Four winner will get you 16 points, and accurately predicting the National Champion delivers 32 points. Oftentimes, the tiebreaker is the total points scored in the championship game.

DraftKings’ bracket contest works similarly to the above scoring system, but the point totals are multiplied by 10. So that’s 10 points for correct picks in the Round of 64, 20 for accurate picks in the round of 32, 40 for the Sweet 16, 80 for the Elite Eight, 160 for the Final Four and 320 for picking the National Champion.

Other brackets keep it simple and simply award one point for each winning pick, no matter what round. Some bracket pools award bonus points for correctly predicting upsets. Most aren’t a fan of this system, as correctly predicting the later rounds should be worth more than early games, which are often insignificant in the result of the tournament. Always be sure to check the scoring system of any bracket contest you enter.

How do NCAA March Madness brackets pay out?

The prize money varies due to several factors, such as the total prize pool, number of contestants and payout structure.

In some smaller contests, only the winner of the contest is paid. This is known as “winner-takes-all.” These contests usually pay out the winner handsomely, but it’s hard to finish at the top; therefore, most leave empty-handed.

Most contests pay out the top finishers on a declining scale. For example, DraftKings pays the top place finisher $5,000, while paying the second and third $1,000 each and the fourth and fifth $500 each. Earnings continue to decline for contestants that finished lower than that.

There are pros and cons to joining larger contests as opposed to smaller contests. Larger contests usually have larger prize pools and pay out more people, but it’s much harder to perform well in those due to the sizeable competition. On the other hand, smaller contests may have smaller prize pools and pay out fewer people, but you have a higher chance of performing well compared to the rest of the field.

If you’re fortunate enough to win money in a bracket contest, those earnings are released at the conclusion of the tournament. They’ll be credited to your sportsbook account where you can use the funds to bet on other sports. If you want to withdraw your winnings into your bank account, that’s an acceptable option as well. Simply follow the withdrawal steps in your app.

Three absolute musts for picking your bracket

The following tips are important to ensure a fighting chance of winning a bracket contest:

  1. Good teams usually go far. It might seem obvious, but oftentimes people get too cute. No. 1 seeds advance past the second round almost 90% of the time. Every champion since 2002, except UConn in 2014, has been a top-three seed. If you’re eliminating good teams too early, you might look like a genius, but the probabilities aren’t at all in your favor.
  2. Don’t be afraid to pick some upsets. At the same time, one No. 12 seed beats a No. 5 almost every year. There are usually some other double-digit seeds that come out of the first and second rounds. If you’re picking strictly lower seeds to advance, it might look good on paper, but you likely won’t be accurate. Be calculating with your upsets.
  3. Use all available data. Use advanced analytics to track metrics like points per possession and possessions per game. Find out which teams excel at three-point shooting and free throws. These are key in March Madness. Factor in experience, injuries and coaching.

Three absolute don’ts when picking your bracket

  1. Don’t be too chalky. If you think a No.1 seed will win the whole tournament, you need enough chaos in the rest of your bracket to finish ahead of the other people who picked the same team to win it all. You can’t pick a favorite to win it all and then have a chalky rest of the bracket and expect to finish ahead of everyone.
  2. Avoid teams that can’t shoot the three. In the past, basketball games were won with good inside defense and rebounding. Now, it’s all about the three. No team with a three-point shooting percentage lower than 32.9% has ever won the championship.
  3. Advance No. 1 seeds! Virginia losing as a No. 1 seed in the first round of the 2018 tournament is still fresh on our minds, but that’s the only time ever. In fact, there has never been an Elite 8 without a No. 1 seed. There has never been more than two No. 1 seeds eliminated in the first weekend of the tournament. Don’t get too wild and eliminate the top teams too early.

How are NCAA tournament brackets set?

There are 68 teams selected for the tournament every year. Thirty-seven teams receive “at-large” bids, while 31 teams automatically qualify due to winning their conference tournaments.

At-large bids are the most debated. The selection committee ranks teams based on a combination of factors such as regular season record, conference tournament performance, quality of competition, bad losses, impressive wins, analytics, injuries and current form. Those teams that most impress the committee receive at-large bids. Some at-large bids are easier to award than others.

When the 68 teams are selected, seeding is also determined by the committee. They compare teams against each other while grouping certain teams with each other. Then, they fill out the bracket based on which seed every school was assigned.

There are four play-in games every year. The four worst “at-large” teams as deemed by the committee will play to determine the final two No. 11 seeds. Also, the four worst teams who receive automatic bids will play each other, with only two making it to the round of 64 as No. 16 seeds.

How to sign up and enter bracket contests in Ohio

Now that you know all about bracket contests, it’s time to get involved. You can access the best bracket contests at the top Ohio sportsbooks in just a couple of minutes. Here’s how:

  • Look through this page and find the contest that appeals to you. On top of the free Bracket Contest entry, there are plenty of other promotional offers you can collect to help you get started with other sports betting interests.
  • Complete the registration process at the sportsbook (using the links on this page) by entering a few simple details to help verify your identity.
  • If you signed up just for the free contests, you won’t need this next step. However, if you need to deposit money, now is the time to fund your account.
  • Scroll through the sportsbook and check out all the March Madness brackets contests OR the game-by-game odds and team/player/conference props available.

If you complete the above steps, the next important thing to do is to download the sportsbook app to your phone. With an app, you can follow line movements and track your bets from anywhere much faster.

The top legal sportsbooks invest heavily in their app design and useability and you’ll see just how user-friendly betting apps are these days. Expect continued improvement, which should very fun, easy and clean March Madness bracket contests.

Betting on March Madness vs. bracket contests

While brackets are popular across the country, many people also bet on March Madness games individually. Just because the game is happening during March Madness does not mean anything changes when it comes to betting college basketball game lines. There are spread odds, moneyline odds and totals odds for every game.

Betting on games individually requires more work and risking more money more frequently. However, you’re more likely to pick a single game correctly than you are to nail your entire bracket. Or even a decent portion of your bracket. Additionally, if your bracket is busted, it doesn’t mean you have nothing else to root for.

Bracket contests are less work and more convenient. Additionally, if you go for a paid-entry bracket contest, you need to risk money only once. The potential payout is lucrative. However, they are hard to win and have more of a lottery-ticket type of feel.

For more on betting March Madness games individually, or using March Madness odds to figure out your optimal bracket picks, check our March Madness odds pages here:

March Madness bracket FAQ

When do March Madness brackets come out?

March Madness brackets are released on Selection Sunday, a Sunday in mid-March after all conference tournaments wrap. Brackets are finalized after the First Four play-in games of the tournament are complete.

How many bracket contests can I enter?

As many as you want. However, oftentimes entries to a specific bracket contest are limited to one per person. If you spread your brackets out among different contests, you can join as many as you can afford.

How many combinations are there for March Madness brackets?

There are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 combinations possible for a March Madness bracket. That’s 9.2 quintillion.

What are the odds for a perfect bracket?

If you’re flipping a coin, you have a 1-in-9.2 quintillion chance of nailing a perfect bracket. It’s estimated that if you possess some basketball knowledge, your gambling odds are about 1-in-120.2 billion.

How many March Madness brackets are filled out every year?

According to the American Gaming Association, 40 million people fill out almost 70 million brackets every year.

What’s the best-ever March Madness bracket?

That accolade goes to Gregg Nigl, an Ohio neuropsychologist who took a perfect bracket through 50 games in 2019.

Ohio problem gambling resources

Ohio offers robust resources and programs to support responsible gambling:

  • Ohio Lottery Commission: Runs the ‘Play Responsibly’ initiative, offering treatment programs, fact sheets, warning sign resources, and the Ohio Voluntary Exclusion Program.
  • Ohio for Responsible Gambling: A collective effort providing responsible gambling tips, warning sign information, and treatment options for affected individuals.
  • Ohio Casino Control Commission: Provides various responsible gambling resources, mental health services, information on treatment facilities, a self-assessment questionnaire, and helpline contacts.
  • Problem Gambling Network of Ohio: A nonprofit affiliated with the National Council on Problem Gambling, advocating for responsible gambling, offering treatment services, and hosting webinars and seminars.