The Big Finish

March might be mad, but it’s also pretty lucrative for Las Vegas sports books. Most of the big casinos make betting on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament the centerpiece of a gambling vacation for the guys (and about 95 percent of them are guys—there’s still a heavy masculine slant to the party). The first extended weekend, in which 48 games are played over four days, is the busiest for most Nevada sports books. But Final Four weekend’s no slouch, either.

In general, Strip sports books see a younger crowd for the tournament—men just out of college are heavily represented, and many over-21, sports-nut undergraduates choose to spend their spring break betting on games in Las Vegas. Unlike the Super Bowl, which features a massive build-up to a single game, March Madness unleashes a steady torrent of gambling across all the Valley’s sports books. Last March, betting on bastketball (the Gaming Control Board doesn’t differentiate between college and pro betting) brought in about $20 million for Nevada sports books—only about 2 percent of the total casino win for the month. But basketball bettors also spend substantially elsewhere, and they tend to drop money on other casino games.

American Wagering, which runs sports books all over town, has seen an unprecedented level of business this month and is looking forward to a great finish for the tournament this weekend.

“This is one of our favorite times of the year,” says John English, senior vice president of business development and public affairs. “It’s hectic, fun and there’s a great buzz everywhere.”

This year, with many of the favorites knocked out early, there’s a sense of unpredictability that’s boosting excitement—and helping business for many sports books.

“We’ve had more activity this year than we were expecting,” English says, attributing the windfall to the anything-can-happen vibe.

With only three games, Final Four action lacks the wall-to-wall mayhem of the first two rounds, but it’s frantic nonetheless. It’s the last college basketball until November, and bettors who are down have a shot to break even, while those who are winning are looking to make the most of their good fortune. And if they decide to spend a little extra while they’re at it, Las Vegas will thank them.

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