But that’s after the third day of your first drunk. When, in the battle of you vs. them, they’ve wiped the floor with you, like the way a 1 beats the piss out of a 16 seed. Proving that not only can you not handle extreme amounts of alcohol, but also that you can’t even handle the simplest things in your world. Like making sure that you do not spend more money than you have to your name. Like making sure you don’t piss your pants. Or piss a stranger. Vegas makes sure that you know what you have always suspected: that you, indeed, are a pussy. A total failure.
No. Of course not. You’re not a failure. That’s the beauty of Vegas: it comes this close to breaking you down, only for you to “realize” that it’s nothing, it’s just a weekend. But, for the first time, because you can’t summon the power to do anything at all but stare at the carpet of the sportsbook, you start to feel bored. And, in Vegas, that might be worse.
Vegas wouldn’t crush you on your first night. It’s too smart for that. This all happens days in, after you’ve watched grown men cry at televisions. After you’ve cheered as a 13 seed beat a 4 seed only to then realize you took the chalk. After you’ve lost your last dollar six times.
This is after you’ve experienced the first weekend of March Madness on the Vegas strip. And you’ll go back every year afterwards.
If your goal is to maximize your fun and basketball watching, but minimize Vegas’ affect on your body and psyche, it’s best to arrive in Vegas the night before the tournament starts (Wednesday) and leave that Saturday. Any shorter and you miss the entire reason you visited Vegas in the first place. Any longer and you’ll turn into the lowest of the low: what Ben Affleck (of all people) effectively and accurately called “a mud turtle.” Stay too long, which in this case is 4 nights, and you’ll be useful to no one. Not even yourself.
Anyway. You arrive Wednesday night because you want to be as settled in as possible for the next two days. Because, of course, the next two days are the entire reason they call it March Madness. 32 games in 2 days: that’s 4 games every 3 seconds, or something like that. If you show up Thursday morning, even before the games start, there is no possible way to be prepared. It would be as if you’re meeting everyone downtown on a Saturday night, only you couldn’t pregame because you had to work. So everyone, for the rest of the night, will be three hours ahead of you. Plus, if you show up Thursday morning you don’t get to play blackjack drunk from 1 to 6 am in the luxurious Casino Royale the night before.
No matter if you drink Wednesday night or not, you’ve got to face the unavoidable paradox in the morning: the sportsbook. Since the games start at 9 in the morning (you’re on the west coast), that means that everyone who wants to place a bet has to make it up before 8:30. That means that everyone who wants a seat has to be there at 5 in the morning (or sometimes earlier). And both of those mean that the sportsbook, which is usually one of the happiest places in all the west, is now one of the (relatively) saddest places on Earth. No one is happy because everyone is hungover. Everyone. Even those who didn’t drink. The soulless are wandering and you can see it on their faces. That Illini fan spent too much money at Spearmint Rhino. That douche bag in the Arizona jersey dropped $1200 on two Grey Goose bottles only to find that two bottles and a table doesn’t prevent you from being kicked out of the club. The atmosphere is sad and contagious. Until, you place your bet that is. Because then the whole thing becomes real and all of those feelings, all of those toxins and all of those memories wash away.
Conversations preceding your Vegas trip will usually go like this:
Basketball-fan-not-as-hardcore-as-you: “So you’re going to Vegas for the NCAA tournament. I didn’t know that Vegas was hosting tournament games”
You: “They aren’t. I’m just going to watch and bet on the games in the sportsbook.”
Bfnahay: “So, you’re just going to watch the games on TV. Can’t you do that in (fill-in-the-blank city)?”
There is no way for them to understand, because this weekend is something you have to experience in order to fully appreciate it (Note: I recognize that that pretty much negates all that I’m writing, but deal with it). Why would you travel XXXX number of miles to watch a game on TV, a game that would be available in your region? Because of the circus that is the sportsbook, that’s why. Nowhere else in the world will you find two grown men next to each other, one about to win the equivalent of a sportscar and the other about to put his family on the brink of bankruptcy. One is happier than he’s ever been in his life, willing to pay for all of your incidentals for the rest of your weekend, and the other is figuring out how he’s going to tell his wife that they need to take out a second mortgage out on their first house. One will give you a $100 chip just because you’re standing next to him and the other will try to punch you in the face. Of course, those moments are rare, but they are there. More common: The hilarious and entertaining moments when everyone, regardless of their favorite teams, cheers for the same side solely because of the bets everyone has placed. It doesn’t matter what the category: spread, first half spread, over, under, which cheerleader screws up first. Most of the time in the sportsbook, whether because of a “tip”, everyone “feeling” the line or just because of a bad line placement, most of the crowd is betting together. There are the more obvious instances, like when a large portion of the crowd has taken the moneyline on a big underdog (example this year: Cleveland State), those bettors (and their friends) being well aware that a win could cause their windfalls to quadruple, thereby making that night all the more ridiculous (read: expensive). But there are also the less noticeable moments, like when a game is a blowout but the point difference keeps jumping back and forth over the spread (example this year: Duke/Binghamton). It’s in that moment that you realize the true beauty of this weekend: No one else in the country, not even the Duke or Binghamton fan, cares about this game. Everyone has turned their tvs off. But 100 men are going nuts in the sportsbook over a meaningless layup here and a 14-foot jumper there. And they are all the happiest they’ve been since the last time it happened two hours ago. It’s like this for an entire weekend.
The best part about the trip is that it’s Vegas, only bigger. And, in the land of hotels as big as cities, bottomless 6-foot tall margaritas, topless blackjack tables (at the Wynn) and a 3,000 seat arena built solely for Danny Gans, that seems impossible. Going to Vegas the first weekend of March Madness must feel exactly to basketball fans as when porn addicts go to Vegas for the Adult Video Convention or when the orthopedic surgeons go for their foot therapy parties: Not only is there the gambling, nightlife and strip clubs but now you have something to gawk at during the day. Something to do besides nurse your hangover and cautiously play the tables all afternoon long, hoping not to spend the money that you’re going to blow on $50 club entrance fees and $30 drinks that night.
Sure, it’s ridiculous. Sure, it’s morally (and ethically) reprehensible. Sure, for the first three weeks after Vegas you don’t want to even think about the trip, or the city. You don’t want to hear any words beginning with L or V. Sure, you might have to take a second (or third) job to cover the money you spent but didn’t have. But for one weekend out of the year, you have the opportunity to go to Disneyland, the Super Bowl and the Playboy Mansion all at once.
Now why would you pass that up?