LAS VEGAS -- March Madness in Las Vegas is a must on every sports fan’s bucket list.
For first-time visitors and seasoned veterans alike, watching and betting on the NCAA Tournament at the city’s bevy of sports books is an experience akin to being on a thrill ride.
“When you walk into the middle of the scene, it’s like being at a major sporting event,” Mirage sports book director Jay Rood said. “The crowd is acutely attuned to every single play and every call is bemoaned or celebrated.
“It’s a constant barrage of visual and emotional stimuli. It’s a nonstop marathon of excitement.”
With the 68-team field whittled to 16 by Sunday, the first four days of the tournament are an action-packed frenzy.
“This is one of those events that kind of goes the other way. The championship game isn’t nearly as busy as the first four days,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “Those first four days, it’s just an unbelievable atmosphere. The hype, the buzz and the electricity at the sports books are contagious. It’s a lot of fun.”
The number of people who flock to Las Vegas for March Madness continues to grow every year and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I don’t think it’s peaked,” Rood said. “Not even close.”
Wynn sports book director John Avello agrees.
“It’s at a point now where it’s probably a bigger event than the Super Bowl is,” he said. “The Super Bowl’s only a weekend. This thing goes three weekends. The first (two days) are just what the word says: madness.”
Longtime oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro of the South Point said the betting handle for the first four days of the NCAA Tournament is usually comparable to the Super Bowl, which generated a record $119.4 million handle this year at Nevada books.
“If it runs true to form, it will be the highest March Madness we’ve ever booked,” Vaccaro said.
To accommodate the overflow crowds, there will be a plethora of viewing parties around town, starting at 8 a.m. Thursday. Be sure to arrive early.
“It’s actually insane,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said of the throng that turns out for his hotel’s annual ballroom bash. “On Wednesday night last year, the first guy was in line at 1 in the morning. We open the door at 8 in the morning and it’s filled up by 8:20. The line goes out the door onto Fremont Street.”
Here is a sampling of some of the NCAA Tournament viewing parties in town:
Where: The Sports Bar near the book, which features an 85-foot by 19-foot high-definition video screen that’s the biggest on the Strip.
Cost: $250 per person. Includes a seat, all-you-can-eat buffet and all-you-can-drink Bud and Bud Light.
Cost: $100 per person or $250 for four-day package. Includes unlimited well drinks, Coors Light bottles, breakfast burritos, nachos, hot dogs and more.
Where: LVH Theater.
Cost: Free. Features 1,500-seat, smoke-free environment, five giant HD screens, giveaways, food and drink specials, betting stations, live media remotes and event kickoff by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.
Where: Encore Showroom.
Cost: Free. Features big screens, betting stations, food and drink specials and giveaways. Closed Sunday.
HARD ROCK HOTEL
Where: The Joint
Cost: $68 per person; $150 for three days. Includes all-you-can-drink Bud Light, giveaways, and live gaming and betting stations.
VIP suites include premium open bar and high-end buffet.
Cost: Starts at $2,000 for up to 10 people.
Where: The Chelsea.
Cost: $45 per day; $112.50 for three days. Includes a craft beer garden, betting stations, access to basketball court, Wii video game stations, pool tables, arcade games, two free drinks and access to open seating.
Cost: $150 per day; $375 for three days. Includes above, as well as assigned gallery seats, limited open bar and curated snack menu.
Packages also available for groups up to 16 people.
PLANET HOLLYWOOD, FLAMINGO, HARRAH’S, THE QUAD
Full court packages include all-you-can eat buffet, all-you-can-drink Miller Lite and Coors Light, appearances by Miller Lite and Coors Light models, giveaways, tables games and live betting stations.
Cost: $115 per person at Flamingo and Harrah’s (closed Sunday); $135 at Planet Hollywood (located on The Mezz).
Man cave packages include premium open bar, high-end buffet, pool, private viewing areas, betting stations and appearances by Miller Lite models.
Cost: Starts at $1,600 for group of six at The Quad; $2,250 for group of eight at Planet Hollywood; and $2,400 for group of eight at Flamingo and Harrah’s.
Where: Stratosphere Theater
Cost: Free. Features nine huge screens, free Wi-Fi, betting stations, blackjack tables and food and drink specials.
Where: The Grand.
Cost: Free. Features four giant screens, giveaways, food and drink specials, betting stations.
Where: Grand Ballroom.
Cost: Free. Features free chair massages and free-throw contests, betting stations and food and drink specials.
Cost: Free. Features food and drink specials, betting stations, beer pong table, pop-a-shot game and high-end memorabilia giveaways during Thursday and Friday’s games.
$50,000 “Last Man Standing” contest. $25 per entry.
Where: Mardi Gras Ballroom.
Cost: Free. Features big screens, food and drink specials, cash and memorabilia giveaways and free autograph session from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday with former Los Angeles Lakers guard Norm Nixon.
Where: Arizona Ballroom.
Cost: Free. Features big screens, food and drink specials, giveaways, free T-shirt with each $20 parlay or $50 straight bet, and free autograph session from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday with Nixon.
Where: Grand Ballroom.
Cost: Free. Features food and drink specials, including $1 hot dogs, $1 draft beers and $12 buckets of bottled beer.
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