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There's no clear favorite in this year's NCAA tournament. Except illegal gambling.

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There's no clear favorite in this year's NCAA tournament. Except illegal gambling.

WATCH | Millions of Americans wager billions of dollars every year on the NCAA basketball tournament.

March Madness begins in earnest on Thursday, and millions will settle in somewhere with as many TVs as possible for hours of gripping, edge-of-your-seat college basketball. While watching as many as four games at once, many will find time to check on the ever-changing status of their tournament bracket.

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More than 40 million Americans are expected to fill out a combined 70 million brackets for the 2017 NCAA tournament, according to American Gaming Association statistics reported by ESPN . 

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President Barack Obama looks over the bracket with Coach Mike Krzyzewski of the NCAA basketball champion Duke Blue Devils, Thursday, May 27, 2010, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, where he honored the team. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

That's no small number, considering that total would eclipse the 66 million total ballots cast during the 2012 presidential election in which former President Obama -- who's been known to fill out his own bracket -- won re-election.  

The AGA estimates that approximately $9 billion will be wagered on the tournament -- more than double the amount that was bet on last month's Super Bowl. It estimates that approximately $7 billion of the total will be ponied-up illegally.

ESPN notes that even in Nevada, where sports betting is legal, it's difficult to keep track of money legally wagered on the tournament. The AGA estimates that it's somewhere in the $240 million range. 

The parity of this college basketball season has many hoping that the 2017 installment of March Madness could be one of the best yet. Even the so-called experts can't agree on a clear-cut favorite.

Millions are sure to have their brackets busted over the next few days, regardless of the strategy used in filling them out. But in the meantime, they'll cheer and keep the faith as long as possible.

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