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It’s finally here: the unofficial four day holiday beckoning college hoops fans to Las Vegas for betting, boozing, babes, and generally poor decision making. Whether you’re 21 or 61, the experience of being here in Vegas for March Madness is unlike any other (cue the Masters theme). To better assist those making the trek west, here’s your officially unofficial survival guide. No, none of this is autobiographical…really I swear.
Let me preface this by saying anyone who doesn’t plan to come here for pure mayhem this time of year might want to re-examine travel plans. For 96 hours Las Vegas transforms into a basketball mecca with sportsbooks packed to the gills catering to the needs of every college basketball bettor. Like the title of ESPN’s 30 for 30 special on the Jimmy V, life in the desert during March is the embodiment of survive and advance. Here are a few pieces of advice to help you construct a gameplan ensuring your trip is one for the ages.
DON’T WAIT UNTIL 5 MININUTES BEFORE A GAME STARTS TO GET YOUR BET IN!
The schedule hasn’t changed, the lines have been up on the betting boards since Monday, and your handicapping acumen doesn’t hit you like a bolt of lightning at the absolute last minute. Tellers are human so they can only move so fast punching out eight team round robin moneyline parlays including every top seed. Don’t be afraid to juice the sportsbook writers early and often, they work on tips like other service industry positions making them greatly appreciative of your generosity. Looking to speed up the process at the window? Know the three digit betting index number next to your team because that’s all that registers with the computer system and ticket writer, not the team name. Those pesky futures bets? Find a downtime to purchase your twenty buck ticket on the Houston Astros to win the World Series, not while there’s 25 people in line ready to disembowel you if they don’t get their action in before tipoff.
DO’s: Tip the ticket writers and know your betting numbers before you step to the window
DONT’s: Handicap at the window wasting other customers time along with the writers and your own
Know where you want to watch the games before the plane ever touches down in Vegas. Make sure everyone’s on the same page and you’re well aware of what time the chosen sportsbook actually opens. No, this isn’t a typo when I say some will fill up as early as 4am. However, certain books actually have designated opening times so camping out won’t give you an inside track at seats. For those that remain open all night, there’s no shame in packing a pillow, sleeping bag, and bottle of Fireball to keep you company throughout the night. Remember large percentages of each book’s seating is set aside for big time casino customers, limiting the inventory of seats available to the general public. Don’t think you can stumble into any venue 15 minutes before tipoff and sit on anything other than a stair or railing.
Remember games tip in Vegas at 9:20 in the morning. So get up early. Or stay up all night.
Recommended Sportsbooks: Wynn, Aria, Venetian, LVH, Caesars Palace
Worth avoiding: Cosmopolitan
No Vegas vacation is complete without the proper dining options built into the itinerary. I realize everyone comes to town with a different budget so opting for the most upscale steakhouse may not be a realistic possibility. I can’t emphasize enough to make reservations the day before because if you’re waiting until the 23rd hour or 9:30 that night when the games are over, the best dining choices will include Panda Express and Nathan’s. In the past, groups I’ve talked to have been a big fan of designating “dinner guy” to handle all the logistics. While he may end up taking all the credit (good or bad), I’d strongly suggest using a point man for all the critical decisions. Don’t sleep on lunch guy either, he could come in handy when you realize about 4PM the only thing you’ve eaten are the olives from your bloody mary.
Recommended Restaurants: SW Steakhouse (Wynn), STK (Cosmopolitan), Cut (Venetian), Fix (Bellagio), & Stack (Mirage)
Worth avoiding: NOBU (Hardrock)
Let’s be honest (this includes you too married guys) Vegas offers plenty of great nightlife depending on your taste. Whether it’s a nightclub, strip club, or ultra lounge, expect a skewed ratio of men to women as a casualty of the madness. Bottle rates at the best clubs will generally set you back one bottle for every 3 guys, plan accordingly. If you’re searching for a buy one, get one like you can find most nights throughout the year, this isn’t the weekend to get bang for your buck. Top clubs know they have leverage given the demand. Do some exploring and find a spot that suits your group best if price is a major concern
Recommended High-End Nightclubs: Marquee (Cosmopolitan), XS (Encore), Hyde (Bellagio)
2nd Tier Nightclubs: Pure (Caesars), Tryst (Wynn), Tao (Venetian), 1Oak (Mirage)
Nightclub to avoid: LAX (Luxor)
Recommended show: Absinthe (Caesars Palace). Think Cirque but raunchy with crude humor and ridiculous acrobatics.
Ah, the taboo subject for most however OKTC isn’t just any sports website:
Inevitably you’ll go to Vegas and ask around: “Where should we go? How can I get a limo?” The answer isn’t nearly as complex as you’d think because each club is in major competition with one another for a share of your wallet. Call the clubs in advance to find out exactly how many people you need in your party for them to send limos or a party bus to bring you over in style. For groups of guys (say 10 or more) this could be the most affordable option since the high-end traditional nightclubs aren’t looking for a sausage fest unless those pockets are awfully deep.
Recommended strip clubs: Sapphires, Spearmint Rhino, Crazy Horse 3
Strip club to avoid: Little Darlings
Bonus Babes: Explore the pool scene this time of year as well, most are just opening and get neglected by visitors because the calendar still says March. Check to see if Cabanas are available with extended cable packages to avoid missing a moment of the games while catching some rays. One warning here, deposits may be required and there are no refunds if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Recommended Pool Parties: Wet Republic (MGM), Encore Day Club (Encore), Marquee Day Club (Cosmopolitan).
Pool Party to avoid: Rehab (Hard Rock)
Don’t be an ass to the people serving you drinks all weekend long. Cocktail waitresses are there to do a job at the same time you’re there to enjoy yourself, showing mutual respect goes a long long way. Almost every sportsbooks requires you meet a certain threshold to receive a drink ticket however it goes without saying that just because your drink is free, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip the server. Certain books will offer you a handful of drink tickets for one bet and this is where the aforementioned tip to a writer can pay major dividends. When all else fails, ask about the race wager minimums. Look for a 1/9 shot at a small track and then bet the horse to show giving you minimal risk (or upside) but still offering an opportunity to get that $7 beer for free like the good ole days.
The bottom line is there’s no better time to find yourself in Las Vegas as a sports fan. Have fun, be smart, and plan a trip within your means. Worst case, the last “B” I opted not to include on this list is Bail Bonds. Although if you’re researching that kind of thing ahead of time…well I can’t help you.