The March Madness college basketball tournament begins this week and Vegas will be packed, as visitors from all over the country come for opening weekend. Something about March Madness brings out the high-cost to-do’s and you won’t have any trouble finding open-bar packages up and down the Strip for $100–$300, but you can do better.
Ellis Island hosts daily viewing parties with all-you-can-drink beer, an all-you-can-eat buffet, T-shirt and raffle giveaways from 8 a.m.–3 p.m. and 3–10 p.m. for $40, or go all day long for $70. Downtown, the Plaza will hold the March Mania Viewing Party in its Event Center. Admission to the party is $15 per day or $40 for all four days; both include a T-shirt and one complimentary drink and food choice per day. If UNLV somehow gets into the tourney, this is the place you’ll want to be, as attendees will get $25 and free pizza for every game the Rebels win (I wouldn’t start counting that money).
Free viewing parties have been announced for South Point, Westgate, Aliante, California, Fremont, Main Street Station, Gold Coast, Orleans, Green Valley Ranch and Palace Station. Most of these sell beer, hot dogs and other food selections for $1.50–$5, and it’s the same in many of the off-Strip sportsbooks. Places like Rampart, Arizona Charlie’s, the Stations and the Boyds, even if they don’t have official viewing parties, are locks to be running drink specials that are a fraction of the price of their Strip counterparts.
If you’re betting the games, one way to make your action stretch and also have a shot at winning a lot for a little is to enter a contest. There are two: Station Casinos is running “Last Man Standing,” a winner-take-all contest with a $25 entry fee—and you get one free when you buy four. Westgate is running a new contest called “Hoops Madness Challenge” that uses only the Thursday and Friday games on opening weekend. The entry fee is $100 with a maximum of three; the top three places win prizes. Both contests return 100 percent of the entry fees, which is good.
If you’re betting individual games, look for places that will give you something extra for your action. For example, a $20 parlay or $50 straight bet at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur or Boulder gets you a “March Mania” T-shirt; any $20 bet at Fiesta Henderson gets a “plush basketball”; and a $20 bet at Rampart comes with a ticket for a raffle of $100 in free play that’s held whenever a lower seed upsets a higher seed. If you’re looking for advice on which teams to bet, Sunset Station will host a free betting seminar from 6–7:30 p.m. on March 13.
After eight years, it looks like the Fremont Street Experience has canned its Downtown Hoopstown party (although there will be a giant St. Patrick’s Day street party on Friday). Hence, you’ll have to look to the local bars for non-casino viewing. One good choice is Home Plate (2460 Warm Springs Rd.), where you can watch the games on multiple screens while taking advantage of a $20 match play offer on Sundays.