Devil's Tale

HOOPS & HOLLERS

It’s March in Vegas

By Adam Wright

Most fathers would be disappointed to find their sons just making it to bed at sunrise with an empty wallet after a night of craziness.

 

A Vegas son rises
It’s 6:30 a.m. in Las Vegas, and Danny Bogen isn’t sure whether his day is starting or ending.

He stretches, wipes the corner of his mouth, and hits on a 12. The dealer turns over a face card and takes Danny’s chips before his brain can even do the math.

Danny finally gets up from the blackjack table where he spent the night and decides to catch some winks.

On his way to the elevator, he runs right into his father.

Most fathers would be disappointed to find their sons just making it to bed at sunrise with an empty wallet after a night of craziness. But instead, Norm grabs Danny by the arm and steers him toward their home for the weekend: the sports book at the Golden Nugget.

Danny and Norm arrive at “the book” around 7 a.m. to find hundreds of fans wearing jerseys and hats, dragging coolers of beer and food, and holding piles of betting slips. Hundreds of potential dollars’ worth of paper slip into pockets and wallets as sports fans settle into seats in front of three huge TV screens. It’s three full hours before the first game starts, yet March Madness has officially begun in the City of Sin.

Courtesy of AP Maryland and UTEP get tangled up during March Madness in Vegas.

Who needs the Super Bowl?
The first weekend of March Madness marks one of the biggest weekends of the year in Vegas. Starting March 17th with the first round, 64 college basketball teams battle their way toward the national championship. Fans can watch and bet on every single game. Some of those thousands of fans will leave town with a few “thousands” of their own.

Unlike the Super Bowl, where fans must wait to see who’s playing before booking reservations, college basketball fans can expect at least one of their favorites to make the field every year. Jeremy Handel, public relations manager for the Imperial Palace, says the hotel starts receiving reservations for rooms during March Madness as early as fall the previous year.

The Imperial Palace, or “the I.P.” as it’s affectionately known, devotes its bars, 230 individual TV’s, and 12 big screens to fans and gamblers. The bets and odds are listed on dry-erase boards behind the tellers.

The I.P. harkens back to the old days of Vegas, when the emphasis was on gambling rather than shopping and shows. The I.P. is loaded with card and dice games as well as countless slot machines and video poker. After the basketball games are over, the blackjack dealers become “Dealtainers” as they perform and deal cards dressed like Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, and others.

Downtown, the Golden Nugget sets up a sports book in its main ballroom, which is enclosed by frosted windows, giving sports fans the feeling of being in a fishbowl looking out on the rest of the casino. Multiple big screen TV’s as well as numerous smaller sets broadcast every game simultaneously.

Before each game, an announcer asks the crowd to cheer for the game they want on the main TV. The game that receives the loudest cheers is shown on the main TV, and the audio is pumped through the sound system.

The “Nugget” stations two tellers in the ballroom so bettors can place bets without leaving the room. Between games, hundreds of people often stand in line to place bets. Cocktail waitresses cruise the room and serve drinks and delicacies, such as hot dogs and sandwiches, all weekend long.

Courtesy of AP Caesar’s Palace, one of the biggest sports books in Vegas, lights up the Strip.

The book at Caesar’s Palace, one of the nicest and biggest in Vegas, has booths with individual TV’s as well as big screens on the walls. Additional big screens list the bets, spreads, and odds. The chairs are large and comfortable. The dark colors and cool lighting evoke a calm, luxurious mood.

Don’t ever look away
It’s 10 a.m.

The beers are flowing, and 4th-seed Maryland is about to tip off against 13th-seed UT-El Paso. The spread for the game is Maryland by 7 points.

Danny puts his money on UTEP because he likes betting against his dad and he knows just how much 7 points can be in the tournament. He also knows UTEP’s shooting guard Chris Craig can shoot the lights out from anywhere, at any time.

The fans are fresh and rowdy for the first game, and the announcer in the Golden Nugget sports book is keeping the crowd pumped up.

Maryland builds an 11-point lead with just 10 minutes to go in the game. The room starts to relax, and Maryland bettors start thinking about cashing in their slips and hitting the nearest buffet.

Before anyone notices, UTEP rips off a 7-point run capped by a Chris Craig lay-up. Maryland’s lead is cut to 4.

The spread is now in serious danger. The gamblers tense up. Palms get sweaty, knuckles turn white.

Some games are quite upsetting
Picking an upset is one of the best ways to make money because the odds are always longer. One place to look for upsets in the NCAA tournament is in the 12-5 game between the 12th-seeded team and the 5th-seeded team.

Fascinating fact

March Madness is one of the favorite times of the year for sports fans. In fact, in 2004 it was estimated that during the opening two rounds of March Madness, office productivity in the United States was down more than two billion dollars.

Since 1990, the 12th seed has upset the 5th seed 22 times, which translates to a 37 percent winning percentage. This upset has occurred at least once every year since 1990 except for the 2000 tournament.

Although a 16th seed is rarely as competitive as a 1st seed, by the 12-5 game the teams are much more evenly matched. The 5th seed is often overconfident and has a tendency to forget just how good the team they’re facing in the first round might be.

In seven of the last 15 years, the 12th seed has beaten the 5th seed in two or more of the four games.

Money time
After Chris Craig buries a 3-pointer, the game is tied at 81 with 1:39 to go.

Danny and his brethren who picked the underdog start screaming. They know that if UTEP loses by no more than 6 points, they’ll all still win big.

Bettors for the favorite start praying for overtime, because only in overtime can Maryland rebuild its 7-point lead and cover the spread.

UTEP fouls Maryland’s D.J. Strawberry, who drains both free throws to put Maryland ahead 84-81 with just 47 seconds left.

Vegas is holding its breath.

There’s still enough time for Maryland to extend the lead…or for UTEP to win.

UTEP scores.

84-83.

Maryland fans are just hoping to squeeze out a win at this point. They’d be heartbroken if they lost their bets and their team in the same game.

Beers pop open. Fans settle deeper into their seats, take a deep breath, and get ready for the second game. One down, 31 more to go.

Maryland makes two free throws.

86-83.

14 seconds left.

It’s high noon. Get the ball to the gunslinger, Chris Craig.

If UTEP misses, Maryland advances and the spread is covered. If UTEP ties the game, Maryland bettors have a chance to beat the spread.

Maryland fans, Maryland bettors, UTEP fans, and UTEP bettors, all in the same room, all with different hopes pinned on the outcome, all with their butts on the edge of their chairs.

The ball is in-bounded, Craig comes free, gets the ball and puts it up for the tie.
The shot is blocked.

Chaos erupts on the floor. Somehow the ball finds Craig. He throws up a prayer, but the shot never makes it to the rim.

The game is over.

Maryland wins by 3, but the spread is covered. Soon the floor of the room is also covered…with torn betting slips rendered meaningless by UTEP’s inability to give up and go quietly.

But Danny and those who bet UTEP are winners of their first bet of the weekend.

That’s how it goes in this town.

Beers pop open. Fans settle deeper into their seats, take a deep breath, and get ready for the second game. One down, 31 more to go.

 


 

IF YOU GO
Vegas during March Madness

Getting there
By plane: Southwest and America West usually offer fares below $200 for a round-trip weekend ticket. Specials may be blacked out during March Madness because of the popularity of the weekend.

By car: It takes about five hours to drive the 280 miles to Las Vegas. From Phoenix, take U.S. 60 west to Wickenburg. Turn right onto U.S. 93 and head north to Vegas. Be prepared to wait at the security checkpoints on either side of the Hoover Dam. Delays can last more than an hour during peak travel times. A bypass is currently under construction. When completed in 2007, it will eliminate the security checkpoints and reduce the drive time to well under five hours.

Popular sports books
Imperial Palace: Centrally located on the Strip. Rooms that cost about $100 a night most weekends escalate to $250 a night during March Madness. They sell out fast. Book early. 800-634-6441

Caeser’s Palace: Also on the Strip. Rooms that cost $250 a night most weekends go for close to $500 a night during March Madness. Again, book early. 877.427.7243

Golden Nugget: Downtown. Rooms run about $100 a night on typical weekends, about $250 a night during the first weekend of March Madness. 800.846.5336

Details
Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority

Las Vegas Tourism Bureau

 

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