NEW YORK — The NCAA tournament that began in earnest Thursday with 16 contests gives casual sports fans a chance to inexpensively invest in the outcome of games, creating a potential four-day feeding frenzy for professional gamblers.

More than $12 billion will be wagered worldwide before the NCAA tournament concludes April 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That's even more than the estimated $10 billion bet on the Super Bowl, according to RJ Bell of Las Vegas-based gambling information website Pregame.com.

While Bell estimates more than 100 million tournament brackets are being filled out, Las Vegas sports books will bask in one of their busiest weekends of the year. The books usually allow for larger wagers with the increased traffic, and betting lines get skewed by amateurs betting with their hearts instead of their brains. Professionals are poised to take advantage of that, Bell said.


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“Like any market, the participants of the market and their level of information is going to affect efficiency and sharpness of the market,” Bell said in an interview. “Instead of the sharks having to feed off of each other, there's a few fish from the pond that make their way into the ocean, and it's not quite competitive.”

Michigan State and Louisville, No. 4 seeds that are among bookmakers' favorites to win the championship, also are in action today, as are No. 2 seeds Wisconsin, Villanova and Michigan.

The near impossibility of correctly picking the winner of every tournament game — 63 matchups — came into focus when Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in January backed a $1 billion prize offered by Quicken Loans Inc. for an errorless bracket pool entry.

There are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 — or 9.2 quintillion — possible bracket combinations. That means if every person on Earth filled out a bracket, the odds would still be a billion to 1 against anyone randomly picking a perfect one, according to Bell.

The growth of travel to Las Vegas for the NCAA tournament has been organic, said Jay Kornegay, the vice president of race and sports operations at the LVH SuperBook. Money wagered on the tournament rivals that of the Super Bowl at the LVH, though the book writes a lot more tickets on the NCAA tournament, Kornegay said, calling it a “huge challenge” to coordinate the expected crush of customers.

“It certainly has gained in popularity mainly by positive word of mouth from people who have experienced it,” he said in a telephone interview. “It's not like we have a national campaign going telling everyone to come out here for March Madness.”