March Madness off to a
frenzied start

Mar 23, 2004 5:19 AM

The NCAA basketball tournament enjoyed one of its best first rounds ever as March Madness swept sports books in Las Vegas last weekend.

Frenzied crowds, lines of bettors and non-stop excitement marked action in virtually all of the casinos in Southern Nevada.

"Terrific is the best way to describe four days of tournament action," said Lou D’Amico at Caesars Palace. "There were customers cheering every basket, the sports book was jam packed and everyone had a great time."

Equally important, D’Amico added, betting handle was up over last year, when March Madness betting topped $70 million for the three-week tournament, nearly equal to the Super Bowl.

"It just keeps getting bigger every year, second only to the Super Bowl, except here we have four days of non stop action," D’Amico said.

Across the Strip, Bally’s and Paris also reported packed sports shops.

"On Friday it was the biggest crowd that I had ever seen, wall to wall and even hanging from the ceiling," said John Avello, race and sports director at Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas. "Plus, the betting action was very good, with a lot of 10- and 20-dollar bettors who played every game. They were also betting first-half lines, half times, money lines, just everything to stay in action. Every year it just grows and grows, maybe next year the sports book will take over the entire casino!"

Helping to fuel the betting action were March Madness parlay cards, pioneered by Dirson Enterprises (GamingToday’s parent company) last year, and used in nearly all sports books this season.

"The sports book managers loved this year’s parlay cards, which posted all 32 of the first- and second-round games," said a spokesman for Dirson Enterprises. "Just like with football bettors, parlay cards were a popular form to play."

The casinos downtown also enjoyed elbow-to-elbow crowds.

"There were a lot of people and a lot of betting interests," said Chris Andrews, race and sports director at the Golden Nugget. "The handle was super ”” players kept coming back, game after game, as the excitement continued."

Of course, betting action at locals casinos was at a fever pitch.

"The handle far exceeded my expectations, especially considering our location," said Rob Terch, sports manager of Casino MonteLago, which is located about 30 miles from the Strip at Lake Las Vegas.

In addition to the volume of bettors, sports books reported more sophisticated, educated sports bettors.

"The action was heavy for both straight bets and parlays," said Eric St. Claire, sports manager at the Rampart and Cannery casinos. "Plus, the players are much smarter today than in the past. Just a few years ago we would have been overloaded on all the favorites, but now the player is all over the board, finding a hot underdog team and staying with them. It was an exciting weekend. We expect more of the same over the next two weeks."