I’m in my fuzzy slippers and my 6-month-old is writhing joyfully on my lap as I look at the score between Baylor and North Carolina on March 19. The Tar Heels are up by 20 points with about 10 minutes left in the second half and BetMGM is now giving -110 odds of Baylor +11.5.
There is no way, I say to the baby, that the defending March Madness champs are going down in a slaughter of this magnitude.
They’re not their 2021 selves, for sure, but they’re not this bad and they will rally, if only out of pride. So I plunk $8 on that one and, sure enough, my instinct was right: Baylor forces overtime, loses by just 7 points, and, bam, I’m a latte-and-a-scone richer.
This is the magic of March Madness in the new era of sports betting via mobile apps, in my case from Michigan.
Not a fan of March Madness betting at Vegas sportsbooks
I couldn’t tell you the name of a Tar Heel or a Bear. I’d probably never bet on a game like that before it started because I’m not that well-informed and don’t much care to do all the speculative homework required.
But now that I can watch the teams head-to-head for a little while — or even, heck, three-quarters of a game — and see where things are heading, I can place more informed bets with more immediate consequences.
Last week, my colleague Andrew Champagne regaled us with a travelogue about his annual sojourn to Las Vegas with his father for March Madness. I’m glad he had such a wonderful time and, also, I’d rather be pecked to death by angry ravens.
In the 15 years I lived in Vegas, it never once occurred to me — unless I was on an assignment — to go to a sportsbook to watch this month’s deluge of basketball games involving teams from schools I’d never heard of.
The Super Bowl? I’ve done that. The rare game of some importance involving my alma mater, Northwestern, that wasn’t broadcast locally back in the days before streaming? For sure.
But March Madness? Vegas sportsbooks, for this particular event, have long been the chaotic native habitat of Spring Breaking drunks. I’m going to go risk having the backwash from a foot-long Eiffel Tower-shaped margarita dumped on my shoes while trying to make sense of several games being played at once? I just don’t hate myself that much.
Sports betting revolutionized by mobile apps
Of course, since I moved away from Vegas in 2011, the sports gambling world has been revolutionized by mobile apps that you can use at the casinos or anywhere else within the boundaries of Nevada or, much more recently, whatever other jurisdiction you may be situated if it’s legal.
In 2021, when a dozen casino apps went live here in Michigan, I was more focused on finally being able to play poker online legally and without having to pay obnoxious credit card or crypto fees to fund my accounts.
More flexible March Madness betting options
This year, though, I learned to appreciate the flexibility of sports betting via apps and how perfectly it fits into an event like March Madness — especially the first four days of it — with its multiple simultaneous games. Rather than placing large pre-game bets, as I always felt I had to do at live sportsbooks, I could play with smaller amounts to add some pizzazz to games that were getting boring.
The second-round face-off between Providence and Richmond on March 19, for instance, was terribly lopsided and predictable — except in my living room where, in the late first half, I took +100 odds on Providence -15.5. The Friars beat the Spiders — I had to look up their mascots just now, that’s how little I actually knew about either team — by 28.
What’s more, sometimes the odds don’t quite keep up with the action in the game and remarkable bargains are available.
At some point in the second half of the Arizona-TCU game on March 20, for instance, the moneyline on BetMGM was Arizona +185 to win. I don’t know exactly when I caught that, but was No. 1-seeded Arizona ever down enough for those odds to make any sense? I just wish I’d put more than $2 on that one. Arizona won 85-80 in overtime.
Likewise, at some point that same day in the second half of Texas Tech versus Notre Dame, the sportsbook offered No. 3-seed Texas Tech +190 over No. 11-seeded Notre Dame. The Red Raiders won 59-53. I turned $10 into $29 on that one.
Betting whatever you want whenever you want
The other neat thing about betting whatever you want whenever you want while a live event is unfolding is that there are opportunities to wager without betting against your own team. I didn’t really think Michigan would beat Tennessee in the second round (they did, #GoBlue) but I didn’t want to profit on that loss, either. Instead, I took -120 odds for Under 148.5 points. The point total was 144. Ka-ching.
To be fair, my intuition did fail me a few times. I was sure Auburn would stage a comeback adequate enough to make -110 odds on Auburn +4.5 versus Miami on March 20 a good bet. The No. 2 seed lost to the No. 10 by 18.
The point production in Michigan State versus Duke that day seemed to be lumbering along in the back half of the second half, so I took -110 odds that it would end under 158.5; it ended with 161 points on the board.
As I’m writing (Sunday, March 27), I’ve spent enough time watching a superb Kansas team tearing the roof off the overachieving Miami Hurricanes to know that odds of -155 for Kansas -18.5 is a pretty safe way to pick up a few bucks.
So off I go with $7 when the score was 65-46.
The final is 76-50, and I’ve paid for another month of Apple TV+.