We got a thrilling test ride to what March Madness in Las Vegas is all about last week during the conference tournaments with multiple games being played simultaneously.
The big festival begins Thursday with the NCAA Tournament first round and runs through Sunday’s second round as every sports book in town will be standing room only. If you want to guarantee a seat somewhere, arrive at the book early or get friendly with a supervisor in hopes of getting a seat reserved.
But why stay in one place all day? There’s so much to offer throughout the city to stay camped out at just one place. With today’s technology the sportsbooks offer, you can bet all the games as they’re happening from your phone. Get two phone accounts at different books, or get three or four and maximize the opportunity to guarantee yourself the best number possible on the game you want to bet. Every half-point counts, so take your edge.
Just a backstory to when my eyes first opened about how diverse the madness is in town. I spent my first 20 years of being of legal age behind the sportsbook counter and my March Madness experiences in Las Vegas were always working 12 to 15 hour days. Fun, but grueling. It’s all hands on deck for every book employee. No approved vacations or days off for anyone over this four day weekend with some ticket writers and supervisors putting in six day work weeks to accommodate the massive increases of business.
When I finally got a chance to experience the madness on the other side of the counter as a guest, I wanted to take in as much as I could and walked everywhere up and down the Strip, starting with the Westgate SuperBook (behind the Strip on Paradise Road) where its book and showroom were full almost an hour before the first tip-off. The showroom, the one Elvis used to perform in nightly, is quite a scene with 2,000 like-minded March Madness partiers getting their party on at 8 a.m.
After a couple of beers and having a few bets in already, I walked up to Wynn Resort to see what its scene was like and found a totally different vibe. It was an older, more reserved clientele, but still vibrant while very comfortable.
Think of how Steve Wynn might like to watch March Madness, if he did, with his buddies; yes, it’s very classy with dimmer lights. It made me immediately think how many different choices there are for all types. If you stay in one book or bar, you’re kind of missing out, just like I had most of my life working on these March days.
After an 11 a.m. Martini at Wynn, I walked the bridge over to the Palazzo for a visit to Lagasse’s Stadium, which features a sunken CG Technology book surrounded by plush bleacher-style seating. It looks like a mini-stadium and on the concourse they have two large bars, which is where I watched a few games for an hour. They take reservations for the multiple VIP rooms if wanting to guarantee a group of friends all sitting in style together.
I crossed the street and headed to the Mirage book and when I arrived I couldn’t believe how packed the book was. Standing room only and the people were backed up all the way to Carnegie Deli watching the games on the giant screens. It was pure madness and so beautiful at the same time. If I stayed in one spot, I would have missed this incredible scene.
From there, I began craving the type of beers I like, which are Guinness and European Lagers, so I went to Caesars Palace and watched the games at Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grille.
The book scene was packed, but inside the Ramsay Pub it was more my speed with people my age, and they had all the games on. Plus they have the most amazing mini burgers, which I had to fuel up on. Side note: while drinking booze all day on Thursday, drink lots of water to keep the stamina up and get a bite to eat by 1 p.m.
It was an entire day out on the town experiencing the madness in different fashion and I encourage everyone to try it someday, and most of all, at least get multiple phone accounts. For those on the Strip, you can get an account at William Hill books at Hooters (behind Tropicana) or Casino Royale (across from Mirage).
MGM Resorts has accounts that can be signed up at any of its 10 locations on the Strip. The Westgate has a massive list of props to choose from on its app and if taking a short cab ride, go to Palace Station and get their app. Boyd Gaming also has an impressive system for phone wagering.
Shocking 10 seed
The most interesting spread of the first round has No. 10 seed Wichita State laying -6.5 in Indianapolis against No. 7 Dayton. The Shockers have won 15 games in a row and are on a 7-1 ATS run. This number ties for its lowest spread during the win streak.
Most oddsmakers around Las Vegas have Wichita State rated as a top-10 team; they make spreads right up there with North Carolina, Villanova, Gonzaga and Kansas. And they’re a No. 10 seed. Really? Who should be really mad at Wichita State’s seeding is Dayton and Kentucky.
No. 1 seed has never lost in the first round, but among the four this season Gonzaga looks the most vulnerable as 22-point favorites in Salt Lake City against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits have been in tight games all season in the whacky Summit League and put together a six-game win streak to get an NCAA berth.
SDSU has gone 11-3 ATS in its last 14 games and has the nation’s second leading scorer in 6’9” sophomore Mike Baum (25.3 ppg), who happens to hit 87 percent of his free-throws. Gonzaga deserves a No. 1 seed, but questions about the level of play in the WCC are valid.
A South Dakota State outright win would pay +3300 (Gonzaga -7700). No. 14 New Mexico State will get its biggest test of the season against No. 3 Baylor (-13) following its WAC Tournament win, a conference where they were really the third-best team. However, they did beat UTEP twice before the Miners got hot, as well as New Mexico and Arizona State.
Baylor clearly has the talent edge, but has played well below its rating lately, going 5-13 ATS in its last 18 games. A straight-up win by the Aggies here pays +575 (Baylor -850). There’s a good chance for a surprise here.
Midwest No 4 seed Purdue is -10 against No. 13 seed Vermont. Purdue comes with best the player in the nation, Caleb Swanigan, but they’ve lost in the first round the past two seasons and it’s still on their mind no matter what anyone says otherwise.
Purdue is -430 to win outright and Vermont is +345. Vermont is riding a 21-game win streak, including a 16-0 sweep in the America East. The Catamounts’ last loss was Dec. 21 against Butler. Their only other losses on a 28-5 season came against good teams: Providence, Houston, South Carolina and Northeastern.
They shoot 49 percent from the field and go 10 deep with a roster loaded with juniors and seniors, but its leading scorer is a 6’6” freshman, Anthony Lamb (12.6 ppg). I made the spread on this game -8, and I believe it’s one of the strongest early upset possibilities of the first round.
My Final Four
(odds c/o William Hill)
I’ve got Villanova (7/1), Florida State (40/1), Oregon (15/1) and UCLA (10/1) coming out of my bracket with UCLA beating Villanova in the final.