The easiest way to get in on the NCAA tournament betting action is to enter a free March Madness bracket contest.
That’s the traditional way most Americans bet on the tournament, and most of the biggest contests are available in Texas, even before the state makes sports betting legal.
Free and paid buy-in March Madness bracket contests will be available at legal online sportsbooks in Texas, likely for the 2023 tournament and beyond.
Here’s where to find the best March Madness bracket contests online.
Best free March Madness bracket contests
Below is a look at the best free March Madness bracket betting contests, offered by the same online betting sites and apps expected to come to Texas.
DraftKings’ $64K Yuengling Bracket Battle/$40K Yuengling Pick ‘Em Challenge
DraftKings Sportsbook had been running a free-to-enter $64,000 Bracket Challenge for a couple of years when Yuengling stepped in as the sponsor in 2022.
The prize pool dipped to $60,000, but the top 7,000 brackets got paid, spreading the money around rather generously. The best bracket took home $2,500.
DraftKings also added the Yuengling Pick ‘Em Challenge, a free-to-enter March Madness pick’em contest with $40,000 up for grabs.
BetMGM $10 Million Perfect Bracket Challenge ($100,000 extra cash)
BetMGM Sportsbook offered up $10 million for a perfect bracket with a free-to-enter $10 Million Perfect Bracket Challenge contest. Of course, the odds of putting together a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion, so no one won it.
That said, someone did claim the $100,000 first prize for the best bracket—a number that made the BetMGM $10 Million Perfect Bracket Challenge one of the biggest free bracket contests going.
$100M Perfect Bally Bracket ($100,000 extra cash)
The free-to-play Bally Bracket contest was the biggest free March Madness bracket contest in 2022. Granted, the one in 9.2 quintillion odds against it prevented anyone from claiming the $100 million available for a perfect bracket here.
However, the best bracket won $50,000, and the second-best took $25,000. The rest of the top five entries split up another $25,000.
$6M Bet365 Perfect Bracket Challenge ($175,000 extra cash)
The free-to-enter Bet365 Bracket Challenge offered up $6 million for the perfect bracket in 2022. Once again, the longshot odds were too much to overcome.
However, this contest gave the best bracket $125,000, the second-best bracket $30,000, third place $12,500, fourth place $6,000 and fifth place $1,250. Cash prizes were also handed out to the top 250 entries.
Even without a $6 million winner, the Bet365 Bracket Challenge was among the biggest free bracket contests in 2022.
$20K FanDuel Bracket Pick’em presented by SeatGeek
FanDuel Sportsbook replaced its free-to-enter $250,000 FanDuel Bracket Madness contest with the FanDuel Bracket Pick’em presented by SeatGeek in 2022. Instead of a traditional bracket contest, this one lets you pick five teams and accumulate points for wins.
The points got you entries into FanDuel DFS contests and pieces of a $20,000 prize pool, including $5,000 in cash awarded to the top earner.
Best non-sportsbook free March Madness contests
Below is a look at the best free March Madness bracket contests put together by entities outside the sports betting sphere and available to people in Texas.
ESPN’s Men’s Tournament Challenge
The ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge isn’t exactly a traditional bracket contest because it gives away grand prize draw entries to the highest scoring brackets from each tournament round instead of cash to the best brackets.
The $100,000 grand prize still made this one of the best free bracket contests, and a 25-entry limit made it worth taking a shot at with multiple brackets.
CBSSports.com Bracket Challenge
The CBSSports.com Bracket Challenge doesn’t award a bag of cash to the best bracket, but one entry in the top 10% did randomly win four tickets to the 2023 Final Four and $6,000 to cover travel expenses.
Capital One NCAA March Madness Men’s Bracket Challenge
The NCAA’s official bracket contest is still the Capital One March Madness Bracket Challenge, a traditional bracket contest where the top 16 brackets are entered into a draw.
The grand prize in the draw is tickets to the next Final Four and championship game, plus travel expenses.
Yahoo Tourney Pick’em $25K Best Bracket Contest
The free Yahoo Tourney Pick’em $25K Best Bracket Contest awards $25,000 and an MGM Resorts Las Vegas Getaway to the best bracket. A 10-entry limit means you should probably take 10 shots at it.
Best paid-entry March Madness bracket contests
All of the big sportsbook brands in Texas will run paid-entry March Madness bracket contests.
This includes DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Bally’s and Bet365. The advantage of entering paid contests over the free ones run by these same brands is the higher chance of success. Basically, your chances of winning are better because you’re up against smaller fields.
Paid-entry March Madness bracket contests vary in terms of buy-in, field size and (therefore) prize pool size. However, some come with large guaranteed prize pools, like the $100,000 guaranteed $20 bracket contest DraftKings Sportsbook has run in the past.
Most follow a traditional format, awarding points for every correct pick on a scale that awards more for late-round winners than early ones. Most also pay according to a traditional 10% payout structure, with the best bracket winning the biggest percentage of the prize pool.
Second-chance bracket contests
Sportsbooks and other entities that run March Madness contests understand that most of us have busted brackets by the Sweet 16. To maintain interest in the tournament, many will run second-chance bracket contests starting in that round. Most let you pick winners for the rest of the tournament in a new Sweet 16 bracket.
The very best second-chance March Madness contests in recent years include:
- $10,000 DraftKings Irish Spring Second Chance Bracket Contest: This free-to-enter, $10,000 prize pool bracket contest awards points for wins on a rising scale the deeper into the tournament it gets.
- $20,000 KFC Second Chance Survivor Pool: This free-to-enter $20,000 prize pool survivor contest starts with the Sweet 16.
How are bracket contests scored?
March Madness bracket contests can vary in how they’re scored and how they award prizes. You’ll almost always have to fill out a complete bracket, picking your winners for all 63 games ahead of the first round. Then, the prize pool will be split among the best brackets, with a higher percentage going to the very best of the bunch.
Traditional contests will award points for each win, assigning escalating point values to wins in each round. That usually means one point for every first-round win, two in the second round, four in the Sweet 16, eight in the Elite Eight, 16 in the Final Four and 32 for the National Championship Game.
While that scale means you have to get picks right late to win, you also have to get them right early just to give yourself a chance.
What are the best March Madness bracket contests to enter?
If you want the chance to win life-changing money, entering one of the free-to-play March Madness contests offering millions for a perfect bracket is the way to go. But since the odds of picking a perfect March Madness bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion, your chances of winning that big prize aren’t very good.
Of course, you don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be better than everyone else to win the sometimes six-figure top prize in these contests. The problem is that there are normally so many entries, you need to be close to perfect to win.
That’s why paid-entry contests with smaller fields are more optimal. Since you only need to build a better bracket than everyone else in the contest, the smaller the field, the better your chances. You might not win life-changing sums of money in these contests, but you might actually win.
If you prioritize winning over winning big, don’t enter contests that only pay for perfect brackets. Enter statewide paid-entry contests over free country-wide contests, and enter as many brackets as you can. Still, taking a flyer on the big free contests can never be considered a bad idea. After all, they’re free to enter, and you never know.
How much can you win in a free NCAA Tournament bracket contest?
You can win as much as $100 million in free March Madness bracket gambling contests run by popular U.S. sportsbook brands. Of course, the only way to win that much is to build a perfect bracket. The odds of doing that, we remind you, are one in 9.2 quintillion. So not very good.
However, you can still win as much as $125,000 in free March Madness bracket contests run by popular sportsbook brands just by putting together the best entry in the contest.
This is possible but tough to do, considering millions enter these contests. Still, many of these contests pay out small consolation prizes to the top 10% of entries (as many as 7,000 people), making them worth entering even if your chances of winning are slim.
If these prizes are paid out in sportsbook credit, you may have to travel to another state to bet it or wait for that sportsbook to come to Texas. But don’t let that stop you from entering. Most of the biggest brands in sports betting should arrive in Texas in the near future.
How to sign up and enter NCAA bracket contests in Texas
Once Texas gets legal sports betting, entering a March Madness bracket contest at a Texas online sportsbook will require you to:
Sign up for an account
Sign up for an account with any Texas online sportsbook running a March Madness bracket contest you want to enter. Click on one of our links to that sportsbook to sign up.
Fill out the sign-up forms, including the promo or bonus code field, with the info you find here to ensure you get the best bonus available.
Make a deposit
Deposit money in your account, so you can enter paid-entry contests or bet on March Madness games individually. Go to the cashier and choose your preferred deposit method, including everything from credit cards to PayPal. Then, just follow the prompts.
Find the most appealing March Madness bracket contest
Most free March Madness bracket contests are right up front and easy to find. Browse the college basketball betting markets to find them. After that, it’s just a matter of filling out brackets and entering as many as possible to give yourself the best chance to win.
After you’ve filled in your bracket, jump over to the full odds board to see all of the March Madness game lines and props to bet on.