by Jeremy Martin
If you have friends, family or a significant other that works in a Las Vegas sportsbook, don't expect any 'quality time' this coming weekend.
The 2005 NCAA Tournament begins this Thursday and Las Vegas is the place to be. Hotel rooms have been booked solid for months and sportsbooks are expecting the biggest tournament to date.
There will be no sportsbook employees getting days off and overtime will be encouraged. Some books will even bring in extra ticket writers to handle the expected massive rush.
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Although the Nevada Gaming Commission does not keep specific records for March Madness betting handle, estimates indicate the three-week tournament could possibly bring in more money than the Super Bowl, which is the biggest single-day betting event in the world. Some say that March Madness betting brings in $3 billion in handle worldwide and Las Vegas' share could be as much as $90 million. This year's Super Bowl brought in nearly $91 million in handle statewide (beating last year's record of $81.2 million).
March Madness betting will reach a fever pitch this weekend and the action will slowly trail off until the Final Four starts on April 2.
"The first weekend (in Las Vegas) has become such a huge event," said Doug Beil, Race and Sportsbook manager for Terrible's Hotel/Casino. "It has become a big thing to come to Las Vegas and watch and bet those first four days of games. After that you just see far fewer visitors or tourists. The games are still big and the handle is still big, it is just huge those first four days. People from out of town tend to come in the first weekend because of the volume of games in a short period of time."
"It's growing every year," added Bob Scucci, Race & Sportsbook manager for the Stardust. "Every year there are more casinos in Las Vegas and every year there are more sportsbooks. Instead of seeing the handle drop at each casino because the money is dispersed at more different properties, what we are seeing is more properties and more handle.
"The interest (in the tournament) is crossing over into other demographics. So it's not just the male population from the ages of 21 through 50 with disposable income like it was years ago. It's crossing over now and you are seeing a lot more women who have their favorite teams that they want to follow and they get caught up in the excitement of the tournament. You see a lot more people of all different ages. It has crossed over to different segments of the population."
Much of this increase in interest in March Madness betting can no doubt be attributed to the popularity of bracket contests and office pools. Just about every office for mid-to-large sized companies has some sort of bracket that is being passed around and wagered on during mid-March. Scucci believes that many of these individuals who are filling out brackets for the first time will be the same ones that are planning their trips to Las Vegas to take part in NCAA Tournament betting in the coming years.
"It indoctrinates them into the whole tournament so that they understand what the tournament is about, they know how many teams start out and they know how it works and how you get to the finals," he said. "By (participating) in these office pools, it teaches you what the tournament is and then maybe you say 'I like this tournament style and I wonder what it is like in Las Vegas?' You come out here and you get exposed to a whole new betting aspect of it."
San Diego resident Christine Prowd has never filled out a bracket but she did happen to be in Las Vegas for her annual trip with friends during the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. She has always been a sports fan but she had never placed a wager on a sporting event. During a break from tanning at the Flamingo Hilton pool, she wandered by the hotel's sportsbook and decided to place a wager on the Texas/North Carolina game - mainly because of the excitement she witnessed from the bettors that filled the book. She won her bet and now she is hooked. Prowd decided to plan this year's excursion to coincide once again with the tournament.
At the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Race and Sportsbook Director Jamie Shea is also looking forward to a big weekend. Most of the guests are the Hard Rock are from the 'young, hip' set that aren't typically known as big sports bettors. But many college students will plan their Spring Break trips around the tournament in order to take part in March Madness betting.
In order to make the Hard Rock a more attractive venue to March Madness fans, Shea has organized a viewing party in the hotel's festival hall that will include table games, a betting station and "more TVs than you could ever imagine," she said. "(The Hard Rock) will be one of the best places in the city to watch the games."
No matter where Las Vegas visitors or locals decide to watch and bet on the action, the atmosphere in every Las Vegas sportsbook will be a sight to behold. This first four days of the tournament are some of the busiest of the year for sportsbook employees.
"Before the first games start, early (Thursday) morning, the (book) just gets packed," commented Scucci. "We have every station open but there are still lines at every window. People just get excited for that opening tip off. Usually there is a round of applause when the games tip off in the morning and then from there on it is like a frenzy because you have first half wagering and you have half time wagering. One game ends and another one begins. You are making lines for the next round of games when the first round ends. It is excitement from morning to night. There's no room for breathing."
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