Ready for NCAA March Madness?

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Friday mornings are usually quiet in downtown Las Vegas.

But that’s about to change.

Two weeks from Friday, mellow is going to give way to boisterous. The book will be packed and the showroom next door will be wall to wall with people betting, drinking and yelling.

Welcome to March Madness, Fremont Street style.

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“We can’t wait,” said Tony Miller, the Golden Nugget’s longtime race and sportsbook director. “Every year, it gets bigger and bigger and I think this could be the best year yet.”

With the parity in college basketball and no clear-cut favorite to win the NCAA championship April 6 in Atlanta, Las Vegas sportsbooks — Downtown, on the Strip, in Henderson and in North Las Vegas will be packed from the opening tip March 19 to the final buzzer that Sunday.

The NCAA Tournament is a three-week affair. But for most bettors, it’s about the first four days, particularly the opening Thursday and Friday.

“I understand football is king,” Miller said. “But it’s not March Madness. When the tournament tips off, it’s the best four days of the year.”

The Golden Nugget holds its annual “March Fever Party” in its showroom, which can accommodate 1,000 people. There are VIP seating packages available or you can just walk in for free, sit in the back and take in all the action.

There are betting stations, four enormous screens with Surroundsound, food and drink available along with the casino’s vast array of restaurant options — everything from Chick-fil-A to the award-winning Vic and Anthony’s Steakhouse.

“We try to cater to a wide range of customers,” Miller said. “We just opened the Chick-fil-A and I guarantee you there’ll be long lines there during the tournament. There’s already long lines during the day since they opened.”

The Golden Nugget, which is owned by Tilman Fertitta, has known-brand eateries on its property. There’s a Claim Jumper, a Chart House, and a Saltgrass steakhouse and of course, Starbucks.  

“Those brands drive traffic here,” Miller said. “Our clientele is probably 90 percent visitors so they are familiar with those restaurant brands.”

When you are watching 14 hours of basketball you need nourishment, so having quality and comfortable places to eat matters during tournament time.

Speaking of time, Miller is encouraging those who plan to come to the Golden Nugget to sign up for the property’s phone app so they don’t have to waste time standing in line.

You can use the app anywhere in Nevada, so even if you bounce around from property to property downtown or decide to go to the Strip to watch the tournament, you can use the Golden Nugget’s mobile app anywhere to bet.

“It’s so easy to use and sign up,” Miller said. “You don’t have to leave your seat. All the numbers are up. You don’t have to worry about getting shut out and you can make in-game bets, which is very popular these days.”

The other thing that makes the Golden Nugget attractive is its sportsbook is independently owned and run. Miller and his staff craft and adjust the numbers and being a small book, they have the freedom and the wherewithal to get creative with prop bets and other wagers.

“When we put out our College Football Games of the Year, people come from all over the country,” he said of his annual lines that come out in the summer. “We also have props for every Golden Knights game and that’s very popular with the locals.”

And if basketball’s not your thing, the Golden Nugget’s affordable entertainment lineup is strong. Whether it’s Gordie Brown or the “52 Fridays” lineup with acts from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, there’s always something happening.

“We’ve got so much going on here,” Miller said. “But we’re all waiting for March Madness, starting with the conference tournaments this week. It’s so wide open, we’re probably going to have our biggest handle in years.”

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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