March Madness in Las Vegas is really nothing like anything you’ve experienced – even bigger than the Super Bowl if that’s possible.
While the NFL championship game is the largest betting event in sports, it is a single day. The madness that is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is over two weeks.
We experienced a marathon of games the first week – 16 each Thursday and Friday plus the eight on Saturday and Sunday. Then it was the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, and it’s just four days to the start of the Final Four.
In the meantime, casinos are making millions. Their rooms are filled (some we hear at five times the normal rate), their sports books are packed, and the energy is back at the blackjack and craps tables.
Having stopped in LVH for a quick cameo Sunday night to pick up some sheets for Monday’s other sports action, the vibe was incredible. The casino was packed. It hardly ever is at that hour.
When I was a visitor to Vegas and not a resident, the chatter was that it was better being here than actually where the games were being held. That assessment is totally true.
Virtually every resort on the Strip has some type of March Madness party and often it is so huge it is held in a ballroom. It’s truly a stadium atmosphere and continues to grow by the year.
LVH hosted noted handicapper Tom Barton for his Saturday and Sunday night radio show, which he usually does outside Vegas. Last weekend he was here.
ESPN handicapper Hank Goldberg made his annual trek from South Beach to Las Vegas at the invitation of Sunset Station head of race and sports operations Chuck Esposito. The Hammer divided his time between Sunset and Red Rock properties. He was last seen with a wad of chips the house set up for him at the $25 blackjack table.
No word on how that session came out, but Hank left no doubt he will return in August to preview the NFL season.
At MGM the new Sports Bar recently opened just in time for March Madness. That’s good marketing and planning, but what else would you expect from a casino/resort giant like MGM.
And March Madness brings out the contests for all to enjoy. Whether it’s picking the most winners on your brackets, trying to win Warren Buffett’s $1 billion challenge for the perfect slate or getting involved with Last Man Standing contests, Vegas is thriving on all the publicity from March Madness.
That said, the hypocracy that exists from those in charge – be it pro leagues, the NCAA or the federal government itself – is suffocating.
These groups continue to rake in the money while refusing to recognize gambling as a benefit rather than a danger to its sport.
Art Manteris, the main man behind the Station Casinos sports books, has said he doesn’t think we will see legalized sports betting anytime soon. Most would agree. Many would even say it won’t be in our lifetime.
That’s truly sad, especially during March Madness. Indeed what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and everyone outside the loop is missing out on a great party.
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].