This is a very special year in sports betting history: it’s the 40th anniversary of the first March Madness bracket. According to the Smithsonian Institute, it’s believed the first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament pool was held in 1977 at the Jody's Club Forest bar in Staten Island, New York, where 88 people chipped in $10 apiece to fill out their brackets. Forty years later, college basketball fans are expected to wager over $9 billion on the Big Dance.

Office pools will take up a large portion of those billions. The pool concept dates back to 1864, when Catalan-French bookmaker Joseph Oller invented the compteur totalisateur, aka the Totalisator. This device allowed Oller to take and record what he called “Pari Mutuel” bets for horse racing. The Totalisator worked so well, France legalized pari-mutuel betting in 1891 and banned fixed-odds betting.
 

Pool Party

Oller did quite well for himself; he would go on to co-found the Moulin Rouge cabaret in 1889 and open the Paris Olympia music hall in 1893. Meanwhile, pari-mutuel betting and horse racing started taking over the landscape – getting an extra push in the early 20th Century when English-Australian inventor George Alfred Julius created the first fully mechanical “tote” board.

It wasn’t just horse racing, either. Pool betting found its way into other sports as early as 1923, when John Moores started Littlewoods Pools in Liverpool, England. One of Moores’ associates, John Jervis Barnard, came up with the idea of a “football pool,” and while business was slow at first, by 1932, Moores was a millionaire. He became director of Everton Football Club in 1960.
 

Bear Market

It took a while longer for pool betting to impact college basketball. The NCAA Tournament went through some growing pains in the 1950s, then John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins so thoroughly dominated the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it took the sport out of predicting who would win. It wasn’t until Wooden retired in 1975, and the Tournament expanded to 32 teams, that people became truly invested in filling out their March Madness brackets.

Technology took over from there. Copy machines and cable television had as much to do with the spread of March Madness as the events on the court themselves – although the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry from 1979 and the expansion of the Tournament to 64 teams in 1985 were landmark moments. But then a little thing called the internet came along, and now we’ve got all the college basketball we want at our finger tips. We can download brackets and bet on March Madness anytime, almost anywhere.

Yes, even at Jody’s Club Forest. They had to cancel their March Madness pool in 2007 after it became too popular and the IRS stepped in – so everyone took off to Dannyboy’s Tavern instead. But thanks to the internet, as long as you’ve got a device and the Wi-Fi is working, there’s an NCAA bracket waiting for you at the watering hole of your choice.