LIVE FROM VEGAS: March Madness Sights, Sounds And Stories

Written By Andrew Champagne on March 18, 2022
Live Las Vegas March Madness

It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours or so here in Las Vegas.

I flew in from the Bay Area late Wednesday for the annual March Madness sojourn to Sin City. My dad beat me here by a few days, and our first of four days together was the first day of the tournament’s first round.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: For much of Thursday, Las Vegas was a windshield and we were bugs.

However, a remarkable plot twist in the day’s waning hours righted a lot of sports betting wrongs, ones that piled on top of each other in ways seasoned gamblers will understand immediately. 

Here’s the first March Madness recap …

9 a.m.: Dad’s still a little bitter about the events of Wednesday night. He needed Rutgers to top Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish prevailed in double-overtime.

His quote:

“I hate Notre Dame. I hate the golden domes. I’m Catholic, so I can’t hate Touchdown Jesus, but I HATE THE LEPRECHAUN!”

Alrighty, then.

9:15: The crew members at the Bally’s sportsbook get jeered for not having the Michigan-Colorado State game on a big screen when Thursday’s March Madness tips. One of the boo-birds went so far as to sarcastically yell, “put on ‘The View!,’” rather than fiddle with his own television at his desk to find the game himself.

Side note #1: Don’t be this guy. You won’t be as funny as you think, and you’ll look pretty spoiled and entitled.

Side note #2: The Bally’s sportsbook is apparently going to be gutted in the upcoming rebrand to Horseshoe Las Vegas. That’s a real shame. It’s a fun place, even if it’s a bit off the beaten path, and the people who work there are top-notch.

9:40: Dad begins to actively watch Providence-South Dakota State. He’s got the Friars, and after an early run, he exclaims, “blow these guys out of the gym!”

9:42: The feisty Jackrabbits (easily a top-five D1 mascot) score a few buckets in transition, and Dad’s mood sours. “Can we get back on defense ONE TIME?!?!”

9:50: The first appearance of the day from a drink server results in this exchange.

Dad: “Is the coffee machine working?”

Server: “No, but the Bloody Mary machine is!”

Dad: “… you’ve seen me before.”

The drink eventually comes. Providence wins and covers in one of the more uneventful March Madness games of the day.

Things start falling apart

11 a.m.: Dad has fallen in love with Longwood. The Lancers came in with a record of about 10-1 in games my father bet them in, and they take the floor against Tennessee. Ahead of this game, Dad bought a Longwood shirt from the school’s store and is wearing it proudly.

12 p.m.: Tennessee quickly proceeds to bury what seems like every shot they take. Longwood’s playing active defense and contesting shots. The Vols are just crushing them by making one tough look after another. Tennessee eventually wins in a blowout, but Dad at least salvages an over/under score to limit the damage.

12:30: After a quick lunch at Sbarro in the nearby food court, your fearless scribe realizes he’s made a mistake. I included a CBI game along with my March Madness wagers, taking Middle Tennessee State -6.5 over Cal Baptist.

I checked to see if the spread had changed ahead of what I thought was a 2 p.m. start. That’s when I noticed “3/19/2022” on the ticket. The game is on Saturday, and I unknowingly bet it two days early.

The moral of the story: Sensory overload is a real thing, boys and girls.

A buzz begins to build

3 p.m.: Gonzaga gets a pretty stiff test from Georgia State. A game that was pretty even well into the second half, though, gets blown open in swift fashion by the top-seeded Bulldogs. This is good, as many visitors have Gonzaga giving somewhere between 22 and 24 points. You can see the rest coming …

3:30: The Gonzaga run pushes the lead all the way to 26 points. Visions of a miracle cover dance in plenty of heads, until a few late points by Georgia State send the against-the-spread outcome the other way. Moans abound as the clock hits all-zeroes with Gonzaga winning by 21.

4: I deal with a pair of jerks in rapid succession. I get in line to place a horse racing bet, and a teller is organizing things at his window. A short man in a tall, green hat comes chest-to-chest with me, urging me to a window I wasn’t signaled to come to. I brush that off, only to see someone taking over part of my desk to organize stuff while in line to place bets of his own.

Once again: Don’t be these guys. Gambling karma is real, and it’ll find ways to get you.

Welcome to the madness

4:10 p.m.: Kentucky tips off against Saint Peter’s. I went on-record prior to flying in saying that my biggest bet of the weekend would probably involve backing the Wildcats against the Peacocks. Saint Peter’s had some significant offensive troubles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and I felt they’d have no answer for Oscar Tshiebwe inside.

5:30: Saint Peter’s refuses to go away. Kentucky’s guards get locked down by the Peacocks, and while Tshiebwe gets everything he wants inside, lackluster backcourt play keeps the game tight. Overtime beckons.

6: Saint Peter’s officially springs the upset. Kentucky is sent home, and my biggest March Madness bet of the day is toast.

6:20: A tweet goes out from @ZeroStarReviews screen-shotting my take on the game from several days prior. I’m not tagged in it, and I only see it because people tag me in their responses. I’m all for accountability, and I’ll own whatever analysis I post that doesn’t age well. Having said that, if you’re going to do that, tag the person and give them the chance to respond.

Fun fact: The tweet dragging me, as of this writing, has 20 tweets and 208 likes. A similar tweet dragging the legendary Dick Vitale for predicting Kentucky would win the national championship has three retweets and eight likes. Apparently, I move the needle. Who knew?

Rebounding from a March Madness disaster

7 p.m.: Dad and I regroup at the Burger Brasserie between Bally’s and Paris. Between bites of two shockingly-good cheesesteaks, we decide to go play poker in an 8 p.m. tournament at Bally’s.

I’m not the second coming of Stu Ungar, but I enjoy playing cards and finding reasonably-priced tournaments. Options were very limited in both of our 2021 trips, and our usual room of choice (Flamingo) actually closed. This makes Bally’s our default option for affordable poker in that neck of the woods, so off we went.

9: Dad busts out and heads to the sportsbook to watch the end of Murray State-San Francisco. Shocker: We both have the Dons, who lose in overtime. As he watches the game elsewhere, I win a few pots.

10: I’m the shortest stack with nine of 30 players remaining. Tables get combined into one, and I only get there because I chop a pot with a rivered straight right before the merger.

10:15: I’m the shortest stack with seven players left and survive an all-in. My pocket 8’s benefit from a Q-8-Q flop against a big stack’s A-K.

10:30: I’m one of two short stacks with four players left, and only three get paid. I move all-in before the flop with pocket 4’s, the other short stack calls with A-J, and I spike a third 4 to bust him.

10:45: Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have the ultimate happy ending. I bust out in third, with my pocket jacks falling victim to a paired ace. Still, I cash out for a nice chunk of change, and before I leave, I do some quick math.

That score at the poker table seemed improbable when I limped to the final table with about five big blinds. However, I scratched and clawed my way into the money, and it got me even for the day.

All in all, it’s a happy recap

College basketball kicked my butt, and gambling Twitter tried its best to do the same. It felt good riding back to Rio with my bankroll replenished ahead of a full weekend of gambling and spending time with my dad. If you thought being wrong about one game was going to ruin my weekend, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news: It didn’t, and I’m ready to get back at it after a good night’s sleep.

Want to follow the trip in its entirety? I’m at @AndrewChampagne on Twitter, and come back to Play Innevada in a few days for a recap of the weekend.

Photo by Frank Franklin II / Associated Press
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Andrew Champagne

Andrew Champagne is a Content Manager for Catena Media, and an award-winning writer and handicapper. Originally from upstate New York, he now resides in Northern California.

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