Watching the NCAA Tournament in Las Vegas

It wouldn’t be March without the madness of the NCAA college basketball tournament, and I admit I never thought there would be anything more exciting than attending these games in person. Until this week.

I had the pleasure of being in Las Vegas yesterday for the first 16 games of the second round, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Thousands upon thousands of sports fans descend upon Sin City with the hope of riding the play of college athletes to financial glory.

Being a giant sports fans but not a savvy gambler, I showed up to the Bally’s Casino sports book at 9am PT with the goal of putting a little cash on the first game of the day (Murray State vs. Colorado State). When I walked into the gigantic area with the dozens of TVs and seats, there was a line with at least 100 people.

Welcome to one of the biggest gambling days of the year. I didn’t come close to getting my bet in on that game, so I started sizing up the next games to see where I should pounce. I ended up wagering on five games over the next nine hours — winning three, dropping two and walking away with a whopping $20.

But this wasn’t about the little amount of cash that was exchanging hands. It was about the rush, the euphoria, the instant bond with some stranger next to you who has money on the same game you do. There are high-fives, fist-pumps and even moments of consolation.

And with so many TVs scattered everywhere, you don’t miss a second of the action. CBS has one game on, TNT is airing another, TBS is carrying a third and truTV (whatever that is) is broadcasting a fourth. At no point during the day is a time when a game is not in progress.

You can always tell where the money is being bet, because the place goes ballistic over each made and missed basket. That was certainly the case when #16 UNC-Asheville almost upset heavily favored Syracuse. Money talks in this city, but everybody loves an underdog. And I can assure you as I fly out this morning and a new wave of bettors arrive, everybody is already sizing up today’s winners.

When the Cincinnati/Texas games tips off today at 9:15am PT, the madness will begin once again. There really is nothing like the NCAA Tournament in all of sports or television, and I’m one of the lucky ones who actually gets to leave here with more money than which I came.

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