We all think March Madness begins with the tip-offs on Thursday, but think again. The Madness began on Sunday night when all the sports books opened their numbers.
At 4:20 p.m. (PT) on Sunday, just a mere 40 minutes after the entire NCAA Tournament field had been announced, CG Technologies (formerly Cantor Gaming) here in Las Vegas had posted numbers between 64 teams. It’s one of the quickest turnarounds we’ve ever seen in the city and part of what made the opening numbers process such a thrill for all to watch unfold.
The NCAA Tournament selection show began at 3 p.m., so as each pairing was announced the books were prepping a number by checking their own power ratings, getting advice from paid consultants, seeing whether there was any home court advantage at the neutral site and also if there was a recent history between the teams.
All of that was done with an average of just over two minutes per game.
At the time CG opened theirs, there wasn’t even a market set here or off-shore, which produced some rapid changes once other books started posting numbers such as No. 7 seed VCU opening a 3.5-point favorite over No. 10 Ohio State. When everyone else started posting numbers and bettors were attacking them, the Buckeyes settled in as 3-point favorites.
At 4:55, the Westgate SuperBook posted all their numbers on the board with their own ratings – many of which had a vastly different to what CG had posted.
Then the South Point posted theirs, the Stratosphere offered its own spin and Wynn Las Vegas came with an even wilder interpretation of numbers, offering several of the bigger underdogs at the most favorable prices.
By 5:05, the Golden Nugget had posted theirs and then William Hill at 5:30. It was a betting buffet across town with vastly different numbers and showed just how different each book’s power ratings were staged. It was a magnificent first 90 minutes of action, and to think most people around the country think March Madness begins this Thursday.
The biggest theme to this year’s tournament will be whether or not Kentucky can run the table and go undefeated, or identifying what team is capable of knocking them off. The Westgate posted the Wildcats at EVEN money to win it all in their adjusted odds to win after the pairings were announced – they were -125 a week ago before the SEC Tournament.
Wisconsin and Duke are listed at 6-1, Villanova at 8-1 and the there’s a significant drop after that with Arizona and Virginia each being 15-1.
In the case of Arizona, who looks like a very capable candidate to give Kentucky a run, their odds were 12-1 last week before buzz-sawing through the Pac-12 Tournament. The odds are based on the teams they’ll likely have to beat to get there in its bracket, which is a tough one that will likely include a run of beating Ohio State, Baylor, North Carolina or Wisconsin.
And if U of A makes it through all that, then they’d have to beat Kentucky, who will be at least -7 in that game, and then the Championship Game against maybe Gonzaga, Villanova or Virginia. As good as 15-1 looks, you might be better served to bet the moneyline on Arizona each of their games and roll the money over.
But not everyone will be in town for the next three weeks so that option isn’t available for some. And if for some reason Kentucky should be bounced before the Final Four and Arizona had to face Notre Dame or Wichita State where they’d be favored, 15-1 for Arizona does kind of look attractive. But that’s a big “if.”
Kentucky won’t see themselves as single-digit favorites until the Final Four. Here’s a look at some of their possible matchups along the way: -28.5 vs. Manhattan, -16.5 vs. Purdue, -14.5 vs. Maryland, -12 vs. Wichita State, -7 vs. Arizona and -9 vs. Gonzaga.
Kentucky rolled through the SEC Tournament last weekend covering each game where no spread was lower than -13.5 (Arkansas) and the highest was -23.5 (Auburn). With two waves of imposing line shifts like the old Russian national hockey team, where the “back-ups” don’t have any dropoff from the starters, someone is going to have to play the perfect game to beat them.
They won’t have the opponent’s rowdy campus crowd to deal with and their toughest foe might be themselves. It’s a lot of pressure to try and buck history of not only Kentucky’s great tradition, but also be labeled as the best college basketball team in history.
If Kentucky does run the table, they will be the greatest college hoops team ever assembled. You hate to get only EVEN money to win six games, but every team below them is rated 7-points below, which is something we’ve never seen in the modern era of rating college basketball teams in Las Vegas.
Station Casinos: The most popular March Madness contest in Las Vegas for the past decade has been Station Casinos’ Last Man Standing elimination contest where a guaranteed $50,000 is up for grabs by one person who picks the most consecutive winners. Contestants pick one game a day against the spread throughout the NCAA Tournament. If you win, you advance to the next day.
If you lose, you’re out. It costs only $25 per entry and if you buy four, they’ll give you one free. All entry fee’s collected over $50,000 are returned as part of the prize package.
For a thank you of running to any of the 18 Station books daily around town, they’ll be offering $2 Bud or Bud Light’s for the entire tournament as well as a quick $1 hot dog to grub on so you don’t have to mess around with the annoyance of sitting somewhere to eat while the games are going on. For a $2 beer in Las Vegas, it’s worth a visit alone.
South Point: On the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament, the South Point will be offering $10,000 each day to contestants who pick the most straight-up winners – no point spread – with their Jackpot Parlay Card. With all the upsets that occur at this time of year, it’s harder than it looks and a perfect card is almost impossible.
On Tuesday, cards will be available for each of the two days and for a cost of $5 you can enter as many times as you like. Between three separate free parties going on at the South Point, this is one of my favorite places to enjoy the first weekend of the tournament.
Westgate SuperBook: The most innovative free contest we’ve ever seen in Las Vegas is available not only just to Nevada residents, but to everyone in the U.S. where contestants can register by phone. They have four Satellite Series contests going on this summer for a chance to win a free entry into the 2015 SuperContest, which paid out more than $2.1 million last year with the winners, CH Ballers, taking home a record $726,000.
The first Satellite Series begins with the NCAA Tournament. They’ll give you a bankroll of 10,000 points to be played like dollars and whoever has the most points by the end of the tournament wins a free SuperContest entry. It’s at the contestant’s discretion to figure out the best game plan of accumulating the most money and amount to wager on each game, which makes it fun. It will be interesting to see what the winning strategy is. Ultimately it comes down to picking winners. To sign-up, visit TheLinemakers.com or Gamblino.com.
Enjoy the weekend everyone. This is Las Vegas at its absolute best and you really can’t go wrong wherever you decide to visit because the thousands of people watching at each casino provide all the excitement you need. There’s nowhere else in the world you can experience March Madness like Las Vegas.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].