With the Super Bowl now behind them, March Madness is next up for Las Vegas hotel-casinos. The NCAA Men's Basketball Championship tournament sells out arenas from coast to coast, and it attracts thousands of fans to the Strip's massive sports books each year.
The tournament's Round of 64, when interest begins to ramp up, takes place at various venues from coast to coast on Thursday and Friday, March 19 and 20, with 16 games each day. Meanwhile, passionate fans pack sports books in Vegas from morning to night to bet on their favorite teams and watch every tip-off, slam dunk and buzzer beater on big screens.
Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of race and sports operations for the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, says the demographics are completely different for March Madness versus the Super Bowl.
"For the Super Bowl, you have a more mature crowd, consistently older, probably more couples and certainly more females," Kornegay said. "March Madness is very comparable to a frat party. It's more or less a reunion of sorts, whether it's a college reunion or old friends getting together. It seems like everybody is in a group of two to six, and they're 99% guys having a great time, cutting loose."
The atmosphere is frequently raucous, especially early in the tournament, when longshot teams sometimes upend favorites. "They're off their leash, and it's all innocent fun," Kornegay said.
"The first day, they're just so full of vinegar, and I'm laughing at them," Kornegay said. "On Friday morning, those Bloody Marys turn into lattes. You can definitely see the difference between Thursday and Sunday. Sunday, they're waving the white flag and they're ready to go home."
The tournament continues with the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds from March 26 to 29, with everything culminating with the Final Four, held this year in Atlanta: semifinals on Saturday, April 4, and the national championship game on Monday, April 6.
While the Westgate's SuperBook is widely considered one of the biggest and best places to watch games, groups are advised to plan ahead, consider different venues and buy packages with all-inclusive seating areas that include food and drinks.
Among the many choices around town:
• El Cortez Hotel & Casino downtown will host "Beers, Brats and Brackets." Free game viewing in the Fiesta Room will be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. March 19-20 and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. March 21-22. Specials include $4 brats, $3 hot dogs and $3 Bud Light and Shock Top.
• The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has Hoops & Hops for the first three days of the tournament. Doors to the 40,000-square foot Belmont Room, on the fourth level of the Chelsea Tower, will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 19-20, and from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 21. It will have several stadium-style high-definition projection screens and 10 betting stations. A lounge will feature complimentary bar games and a hardwood basketball court with a regulation hoop for fans to practice. Single-day, open bar passes for the first two days are on sale for $250 (plus tax and fees). A la carte menu items will be available for purchase. Saturday single-day open bar passes are $150. Reserved seating with waitressed beverage service and an unlimited buffet are also available.
• The Plaza Hotel & Casino's annual March Mania Viewing Party will be in its 5,000-square-foot event center. The center has flexible seating options for large and small groups. The party will also have William Hill betting stations. Admission, $20 for a one-day pass or $40 for a four-day pass (plus taxes and fees), includes one koozie (an insulating sleeve used to keep a canned or bottled drink cold) and one complimentary drink and food item per day.
• FINE Entertainment's PBR Rockbar & Grill (in Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile Shops), Rockhouse (Grand Canal Shoppes) and AmeriCAN Beer & Cocktail (The Linq Hotel + Experience) will offer premium open bar packages starting at $150. They include guaranteed seating. Fans can choose between half day (morning or afternoon) and full-day packages. Guests can reserve a seat at EventBrite.com.