Every March, I meet my dad in Las Vegas for a four-day gambling extravaganza focused on March Madness. It’s something we’ve done for close to a decade now. In that time, I’ve been able to figure out some strategies that make the most out of one’s trip to the desert.
I’ll be posting updates from Vegas as the trip transpires between March 16th-20th. Stay tuned to PlayNevada for those. In the meantime, here are some words of wisdom from a veteran of trips to Sin City during the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments.
Las Vegas is already feeling March Madness, so let’s get to it!
Set limits and stick to them
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and it’s easy to get carried away at this time of year. In addition to March Madness, the NIT and CBI will also be going on at the same time. This makes for more than 100 different teams to wager on over four days, so money management is key.
You don’t have to tell anyone what your limits are. However, have a firm number in mind and track your wins and losses as your trip goes on. There’s nothing worse than going to Las Vegas for four or five days during the Big Dance and blowing through a wagering budget in two or three.
It’s easy to fall into a trap of spontaneity in Las Vegas. There are options everywhere, and laying stuff out days in advance can be daunting. Still, you’ll want to do that for a variety of reasons, especially during the first few days of the basketball tournament.
For one thing, some sportsbooks are now charging for seating. As ridiculous as that practice sounds (I’d prefer to not be down $80 before I even place a bet, thank you), those seats will sell. Last year, we, fortunately, latched onto a group with reserved seating in Flamingo’s horse racing section, which bailed us out from a situation we didn’t see coming (those in that group: If you’re reading this, thank you!).
Those books that don’t charge will have first-come, first-serve seating that often fills more than an hour before the early March Madness games tip-off (shortly after 9 am local time). If you’re with a group and you plan on being in one place for most of the day, you’ll want to be in your seats around 7:30, especially on Thursday and Friday. Either way, know what you’re walking into before you get there.
If you want to go out to dinner, you’ll also want to call ahead. Some places do take walk-ins, but due to the pandemic, many establishments are relying more heavily on reservations. When my dad and I walked to Caesars in November to eat at the Bacchanal Buffet, we were informed it was now a reservation-only establishment with a 300-person wait list. We were shocked, as this was a stark departure from their usual practices. Learn from that.
Know how you want to bet
If you’re going to be hopping around Las Vegas during the day, setting up an app on your phone and betting on the go could be a wise idea. However, if you’re camping out at one place, bite the bullet and wait in line (the lines are shorter if you show up early).
Remember: If you’re new to Nevada sports betting apps, you have to register and do initial funding for the app at a full-service retail sportsbook inside of a casino. The app you have in other markets won’t work in Las Vegas. This is another reason to plan ahead and sign up for the apps you want to use ASAP.
Mobile betting is a godsend for operators. Travelers can place bets on their phones while also spending money doing other things around town. However, if your main goal is to bet on games and watch within the sportsbook, you’ll want to do things the old-fashioned way. The biggest perk is the accumulation of drink tickets, which are like gold. If you establish relationships with tellers over a few days (read: tipping a few bucks when you win), they’ll often slide you extra ones you can use for either alcohol or caffeine during the day.
Be mindful of when you eat
I have no tolerance for lines at Vegas eateries. Unless I’m sitting down somewhere or on a horrible run, I want to order food, get it, and bring it back to the sportsbook as quickly as possible.
This can be hard if you’re trying to eat lunch at the same time as everyone else. I’m usually pretty good with this, but last March, I slipped out of the Flamingo shortly after noon on a Saturday. I was greeted by the sight of seemingly every single tourist in town in line at the lunch stops between Las Vegas Boulevard and the High Roller Ferris wheel. I was aghast at the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of people (especially given the whole “pandemic” thing), but being forced to wait nearly an hour for a sandwich at a deli re-taught a valuable lesson.
If you’re going to grab a quick lunch, do so before 11:30. If you want a quick dinner, get it before 5:30. Also, if you think you’ll dodge a line at either In-N-Out Burger location on the Strip by going at a clever time, know that you’re probably out of luck.
Research the other stuff you want to do
My dad and I play blackjack, and limits at Strip properties often make finding a reasonably-priced table difficult. Add in that almost every property now pays 6:5 on blackjack, rather than 3:2, and the pursuit of an enjoyable gambling experience becomes much tougher.
We’ve found a few places that can provide what we’re looking for. Treasure Island runs a pretty strong range of games at limits that cater to our budgets, including some that pay 3:2. If you’re on the Strip and looking for decent table games, I’d recommend that as a good first stop. Orleans across town, meanwhile, spreads many $5 and $10 games as well. Casinos on Fremont Street used to spread those games widely, too. However, the growing presence of games with mandatory side bets and other gimmicks has made finding a decent one tougher.
The main point here is to come prepared for any non-March Madness activities. If you’re a poker player, for instance, look at tournament schedules and house rules. If you want to set up multiple bases of operations, figure out the most efficient ways to get from Point A to Point B (whether that’s the monorail, Uber/Lyft, or shuttles, which have unfortunately been cut back significantly).
Enjoy the stories you get from your trip
I still remember the first March Madness trip I took many years ago. Oregon was facing BYU in an early-round game. I bet the Ducks that day. As Oregon cruised to a win, I started quacking like Bill Walton or the kids in “The Mighty Ducks.” This got the bar at the dearly-departed O’Shea’s quacking along and created a running gag for future sojourns to Sin City.
In past years, I’ve also run into several middle-aged men decked out in basketball uniforms from DeVry University. The absurdity of seeing guys in their 40’s wearing headbands and custom-made apparel cannot be overstated.
Stuff like that is why I enjoy writing trip recaps and making videos. You never know when things like that are going to pop up. That’s the stuff that makes these trips really special.
10 other small tips, tricks, and bits of advice
- If you’re not getting a good vibe at one casino, don’t be afraid to cash out and go next door.
- Speaking of going next door, shop around for odds and point spreads you like. Those can vary slightly from one establishment to another. A half-point or point in a spread or over-under can make a sizable difference during March Madness.
- Don’t split 10’s at a blackjack table. If you do, and you see a guy with glasses prepared to come across the table and spear you like Bill Goldberg, congratulations, you’ve met my dad.
- Don’t take a blackjack dealer’s bust card. Generally speaking, if the dealer has a low card and you can bust, don’t hit. There are some minor basic strategy exceptions, but generally speaking, doing that makes for a lousy table atmosphere.
- Some of my favorite places to eat in town: Galpao Gaucho (a Brazilian steakhouse behind Treasure Island), Smith and Wollensky (inside The Venetian), and the grab-and-go, pizza-by-the-slice window outside Flour & Barley (between Flamingo and Linq).
- Thursday, March 17th, doubles as the first day of the tournament’s first round and St. Patrick’s Day. There’s lots of fun to be had, but there are also many amateurs in town. Be mindful.
- Caesars Palace can be a wonderful place, but if you hate crowds, avoid it. I’ve only felt unsafe during the pandemic twice. Once was at the Denver airport last August, where every traveler converged on the one sit-down restaurant in the terminal. The other time was in November at Caesars. Every tourist tried to get the same photo in front of the fountain (likely while waiting for Bacchanal!).
- Many Vegas casinos have done away with mask requirements, but I’d still recommend bringing plenty of them. Restaurants in town will have their own policies that vary wildly from one establishment to another. Additionally, some books may require you to be masked when you go up to place a bet.
- Casino Royale used to have some fun, cheap table games, but they removed those in 2020.
- See the fountain show at Bellagio at least once. It’s the best free show in town, and it never disappoints.