It all kicks off (sorry, tips off) on Thursday morning, continues unabated all weekend and has been labelled the most entertaining event in the world of sports. The NCAA Tournament is the college basketball circus of the year. All the sportsbooks will be full to bursting and revenue goes through the roof.
It’s a supersized version of the Super Bowl. Instead of one big game, this is an unpredictable 67 game tournament staged over three weeks. A total of 32 games tip off on Thursday and Friday with another hectic 48 hours to follow. Some say it’s better than the superbowl because there’s a lot more action. If you don’t like either of the NFL finalists you might not be inclined to bet but anyone who likes US sport will be siding with at least one of these 64 teams.
It’s not for no reason that I visit every year at this time. Lots of people in the sportsbooks means lots of action in the poker rooms. For many of these kids they’ve only just reached twenty one and it’s their first exposure to live poker. That means lots of rookie mistakes and don’t forget it’s Spring Break as well which means lots of alcohol. Gambling and drinking don’t make happy bedfellows.
March Madness means big business, and not just for the bookies. It’s a long, profitable weekend for a all kinds of workers on the Strip; cab drivers, cocktail waitresses, even the strippers and certainly the poker players. For bookmakers this event as a whole will surpass what happened on the first Sunday of February, when a record $132.5 million was wagered in Nevada on Super Bowl 50.
So, who’s going to win and lose? Just like the early stages of the FA Cup there is usually one or sometimes two major first round upsets. Backing that David who puts out the Goliath can be a lucrative business. Kansas is the favourite of the 68-team field and the number one overall seed. The other top seeds are North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia.
When the odds were published on Sunday on the first round matches the Jayhawks were made the biggest favourites, being required to give no less than 26 points to Austin Peay. In the tournament’s history, no top seed has lost to a No. 16 seed, though there have been a handful of close calls. Maybe the surprise will come in the game where West Virginia, the number three seed in the East Region, only has to give 7½ points to Stephen F. Austin. Similarly California, seeded four in the South, is only a 6½-point favourite over Hawaii.
I’m flying in on Sunday this year so I’m going to miss the first couple of days but there’s still going to be plenty of excitement over the next two and a half weeks. As for watching the games I think I’ll pass. I didn’t much like the sport when I was forced to play it having been the tallest kid in my school. That’s one of the great things about Vegas. The folks come into town in their droves for whatever it is turns them on be it NASCAR, boxing or hoops. You don’t have to share their passion to enjoy vicariously with them.