Every March, Matt Villano and his friends make a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to watch basketball and do the things they can’t do at home.
All over the country for the past two weeks, thousands of men dialed in to conference calls and made presentations with raspy or gravelly voices. Many blamed allergies. Others cited the flu. But really, their larynxes were wrecked from four days of drinking, smoking and screaming at giant television screens in Las Vegas sports books.
While the majority of Americans fill out brackets and follow teams on their televisions at home, every year, an intrepid bunch (of mostly men) flocks to Sin City to watch games unfold at raucous and smoke-infested sports books.
On the surface, this annual dudefest revolves around hoops; this year the NCAA Selection Committee brought us 67 matchups over three weeks—a schedule that kicked off March 14 and culminates with the championship game on April 4. Dig deeper, however, and you find that the ritual of celebrating March Madness in Vegas really is about a bunch of stuff bigger and more universal than that.
It all starts with action—during the first two weekends, there are so many games on so many screens that fans must swivel their heads like parrots on speed just to keep up.
Then, of course, there’s the prospecting, the potential to strike it rich. Sports books are the only legal places in America to wager on the Big Dance, which generally means that everybody in the house has at least some money on the game.
Another draw is camaraderie. Many March Madness trips are de facto reunions, one of the only times of year guys get to reconnect with old buddies and bond over basketball. The rituals also offer a chance to relive those fraternity years and drink excessively, objectify hot women (hello, cocktail server, love the bolt-ons), and participate in public expressions of solidarity—matching T-shirts, special handshakes, and creative chants.
Perhaps the biggest attraction of the annual extravaganza is the notion of escape. Watching portions of the NCAA tournament in a sports book is the quintessential alternate universe. No work. No wife. No girlfriend. No kids. No responsibilities whatsoever.
Different men embrace this escapism differently.
In some, manifestations are outward. These dudes will smoke the way Phillip Morris intended all along, amass $800 bar tabs or go days without showering—an utter and complete rejection of usual hygiene habits. Sloth is a popular activity among this crowd; guys sit so much that their knees and calves start to ache. Heckling is common, as well; every once in a while, a dude will stand up to clap or implore (with choice expletives, of course) some kid to play better defense.
For other men, the disconnect from reality is more subtle, and it only bubbles to the surface when provoked. On the second day of the tournament, for instance, when CBS interrupted a game to cut to President Obama’s press conference about U.S. military action in Libya, a smattering of men in the sports book at Wynn Las Vegas chanted, “No real world! No real world!”
During a commercial for Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, others simply booed.
Amid all of this excitement, nobody really cares who wins. When you’re betting sports, all you care about is who covers the point spreads and how many total points are scored.
This explains why, two weekends ago, my buddy threw his hat in disgust when an ill-advised shot by BYU’s Jimmer Fredette enabled Wofford to lose by eight instead of 11, killing the 8.5-point spread and smashing all hopes for a four-team parlay (that would have paid 14/1).
It also explains why yours truly was jumping on the book’s VIP couches after San Diego State scored a miraculous hoop in double overtime to beat the spread and edge Temple by seven.
(Thankfully, despite 15 gin greyhounds, I did not tear an ACL.)
March Madness revelers have been known to fist-bump, high-five, and man-hug complete strangers after an exciting cover. For many guys, these expressions are the only legitimate signs of affection during the entire trip.
To me, this is precisely what makes the NCAA Tournament in a Vegas sports book so much fun.
So often in today’s society we husbands and fathers and boyfriends are asked to conform to someone else’s norms and be something we’re not. In the sports books, however, particularly during March Madness, all of those pressures disappear. You want to belch like a gorilla, scratch your nuts, and flip-off the television? No-one’s going to stop you. You want to drink and smoke and gamble enough to make Tom Sizemore look like a Christian Scientist? Go right ahead.
The scene in Vegas sports books during March Madness is a quintessential sausage party. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we dudes need.