Vegas, Baby! The City That Never Sleeps Is The Place To Be For The NCAA Tournament

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 3:25 pm
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) The cocktail waitress weaves her way through the standing-room only crowd, contorting her body through a sea of men scouring wager sheets, trying not to spill a tray filled with a mix of coffee and beer.

All eyes point toward the bank of three dozen or so TVs that cover the front wall or the massive electronic board that covers the entire side wall with green, yellow and red letters and numbers that stream like something out of "The Matrix."

It's 9 a.m. The adrenaline and alcohol already are flowing, apparent from the round of cheers that ring out when a pregame show comes on the big screen.

Yep, this is Vegas, baby, and there might not be a better place to watch the NCAA Tournament outside of being at the games.

March Madness? It's right here, and it's nonstop.

"This is the place to be for the NCAA tournament," said Rich Laguna, of Roseville, Calif., while watching games from inside the Mirage's sports book with a dozen friends who came in from around the country. "There's lots of partying, you've got all the games, you're putting down bets -- it doesn't get any better than this."

The city that never sleeps is never more alive than during opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. There are other big weekends -- Super Bowl, New Year's bowl games, Kentucky Derby – but none match the sustained buzz that comes from watching 48 games in four days from morning to night.

The larger sports books, like the Mirage and Mandalay Bay, fill up fast, with die-hards staking their claims to seats before the sun peeks over the mountains. The late arrivers -- well, the ones who get there just before tipoff -- lean against walls and rails or gather in groups in the room's center.

"It's standing-room only for a lot of people, and they're here all day, which takes a lot of stamina," said Robert Walker, race and sports book director for the MGM Mirage, which sets the line for MGM's 14 books in Vegas.

The Nevada Resort Association has no way of quantifying how much revenue the NCAA tournament generates for the city, in part because it's difficult to break down which visitors are in town to watch college basketball and which ones are there for the rest of what Vegas has to offer. Plus, the Nevada Gaming Commission doesn't break down specific sports other than the Super Bowl.

Even so, there's little doubt the NCAA tournament's first two rounds make for one of Vegas' biggest weekends, with hotels filled to capacity, streets and sidewalks jammed and casinos overflowing.

"The NCAA Tournament rivals the Super Bowl in terms of business, but the difference between the two events is that the first rounds of the NCAA tournament encompasses four days, where the Super Bowl is just the one day with the one game," said Rich Baccellieri, director of the Palms Casino Resort sports book. "The NCAA tournament sets up very well for the sports betting industry, because there's constant betting all day long for the four days."

Watching the NCAA tournament in Vegas is a little different than anywhere else, and it has nothing to do with cocktail waitresses or the constant jangling of slot machines.

In Vegas, the NCAA tournament is all about the point spread. There's no worrying about office brackets or pulling for alma maters, only agonizing over whether the favorites cover the spread.

Even a blowout generates action as those with wagers on underdogs pound tables and high-five each other until the final horn. When Virginia Commonwealth knocked off Duke on Thursday for the first big upset, bettors erupted with joy, chest-bumping and hugging each other as if their favorite team had just won the national championship.

"It's like a college frat party," Walker said. "I've never been to a frat party, but this is what I imagine it would be because it's just nonstop. It's incredible."