A look back at the opening weekend of March Madness in Las Vegas

Mar 25, 2017 |
A look back at the opening weekend of March Madness in Las Vegas
While there are sports bettors all over the world, the are few places where they're clustered together like Las Vegas for the opening four days of the NCAA Tournament.
While there are sports bettors all over the world, the are few places where they're clustered together like Las Vegas for the opening four days of the NCAA Tournament.
Experiencing the opening weekend of March Madness in Las Vegas is seriously unlike watching the games anywhere in the world. There are audible gasps along with “oohs” and “ahhs” emitting from every corner of a casino throughout the days for what most people would consider “meaningless” events.

I was wrapping up my article last week about Kentucky Derby weekend in the food court at Red Rock when there were multiple booms of noise coming from the sportsbook. I tweeted that “something happened, the book is screaming.” A few seconds later I learned that Notre Dame covered the first half of the first game on a missed three-pointer by Princeton.

Things like this only matter to gamblers. While there are sports bettors all over the world, there are few places where they're clustered together like this. There were plenty more good and bad beats like this throughout the first weekend of March Madness. It’s part of what makes the experience special. You won't find this kind of emotion from so many people anywhere else. There's really nothing like watching sports in a room with hundreds and thousands of people that have money on the line.

The first weekend of March Madness 2018 takes place from March 15 through March 18. St. Patrick’s Day, once again, falls during the weekend on March 17. The casinos were more than packed this year and they’ll be more crazy with green beer next year. St. Patrick's Day falls on a day where most people have off from work and with fewer basketball games than the Thursday/Friday schedule this might be the most explosive day of March Madness that Las Vegas has ever seen.

Looking Back At The First Weekend Of March Madness

It’s not the time to get planning for next year just yet. Let’s crown a national champion first! It is, however, a good time to look back at the chaotic fun during the first weekend of March Madness.

Sports Betting Apps Improving The Experience

It looks as though tourists are finally catching on to using mobile sports betting apps. I’ve been an early adopter to the apps and have been writing about how great they are since their inception. The casinos who have been offering mobile sports betting apps see approximately 33% of their handle from the apps. Most of those sportsbook operators are off the Vegas Strip and away from the tourists.

This was the first March Madness for PlayMGM, the fantastic sports betting apps from MGM Resorts International. In an appearance in VSIN, Jay Rood from MGM Resorts International commented that bettors funded approximately 1,700 accounts during the first weekend of March Madness. Showing that they were mostly tourists, approximately 1,600 PlayMGM accounts removed funds by the end of the week.

The casinos on the Vegas Strip had lines all weekend but they weren't as bad as in previous years. The lines should continue to get shorter as more people use the sports betting apps. There were plenty of people sitting and standing in the sportsbook placing wagers from their phone.

One downside of sports apps are that there’s no chance at a complimentary drink ticket when placing wagers. However, the biggest complaint about the sports betting apps seems to be the 10-15 minute signup process. This isn’t fast enough for Las Vegas. Additionally, there was sometimes a wait to take funds out of an account. Hopefully, next year will bring a more efficient signup process.

Ample Staffing This Year

It appears as if most sportsbook operators were better prepared for the deluge of people betting on the games this year. It seemed as if there were more staff at the books than ever before. Sure there were long lines at times but they seemed to move quicker than previous years. Increased app usage and kiosks will help make the lines even shorter in the future.

The March Madness viewing experience seemed more spread out than ever with more happy customers than previous years. Sportsbooks were packed as always but there didn’t seem to be complaints about the limited seating. Free watch parties seemed to be more in demand as prices continued to creep up for paid watch parties. Despite the increased cost for paid watch parties, there didn’t seem to be many complaints about the value or product.

Higher Table Game Limits On The Vegas Strip

Another complaint from customers during the first weekend of March Madness seemed to be the high limits at the tables. Like most busy weekends, limits were raised at many casinos on the Vegas Strip. Your best bet if you’re looking for lower limits is to always look off the Vegas Strip or lower tier properties.

On a busy weekend, you can usually find a $15 blackjack game that pays 3:2 on a natural blackjack at Treasure Island. There's usually a low limits craps table or two open at Casino Royale. You can find plenty of low limits table games in downtown Las Vegas and off the Vegas Strip. Hey, the El Cortez has quarter roulette if you're a low roller.

The first weekend of March Madness in Las Vegas seemed to be the best kind of chaos. The chaos seemed to be organized better than ever, technology and increased staffing seemed to help with problems from previous years, and sportsbooks are reporting a much better handle from the weekend than previous years. We’ll get official data in a few weeks.

Now, let's see who wins this tournament!

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