Las Vegas is always a great place for watching March Madness. Never mind that the final game, which took place Monday night, is invariably less fever pitched than the early brackets of showdowns. There is still something compelling about sitting on a leather club chair inside ARIA's Race & Sports Book, rooting on your college of choice and watching the last few weeks of play come to a head.
Considering that hardly anyone predicted Butler and the University of Connecticut meeting for the final dance, it's tough for a guy like me to come in with much of an opinion.
Needing knowledge, I place a call to Adam Meyer (featured in the upcoming May/June issue of Cigar Aficionado), a successful handicapper who's been on a tear lately. During a trip to Vegas last week, he won $1.4 million betting on the NBA, and his March Madness picks stand at 28 and 8.
He's happy, and so are subscribers to his sports betting advisory site AdamWins.com, no doubt. "I like Connecticut at minus-3," he tells me six hours before tip-off. "A lot of people like Butler, but I'm going the opposite way on this one."
A little bit later at the Bellagio, I run into Jay Rood, race and sports book director of MGM Resorts International. Recounting this season's March Madness, he says the handle is up 4 percent over last year; though less money is coming in per bet, he and other sports books around the state have been saved by deeper volume.
In terms of betting results, he acknowledges that one day of games had him with his heart in his mouth. "The Saturday of opening weekend was really bad, probably for every sports book," he says. "The favorites went something like 7 and 1. And then the overs hit at a high rate. People like to bet favorites and overs, and the liability kept increasing for us."
Who does Rood like to win? "Butler. I think they will be able to dictate the pace, which they will move up. I think that will be beneficial for them."
Clearly, Rood knows what he's talking about. But still, it's hard to go against Meyer. And when I make my way to the betting window, with a $100 bill in hand, I think Meyer and take UConn at minus-3, just as he had suggested.
Things start out a little rough, and the first half ends with Connecticut trailing. Insult is added to injury when Butler hits a three-pointer right at the buzzer. The sports book erupts with cheers. The Greek guy next to me nearly spills his beer. The fat woman to his right raises her arms victoriously as if she scored the basket herself. I'm left wondering whatever happened to the notion of everybody betting the favorite.
Next half, of course, things turn around rapidly.
Connecticut takes a decisive lead and never relinquishes it. When my team moves ahead by 10 points, the Greek turns to his buddy and says, "This is disgusting. Let's get dinner." They head upstairs to Jean Georges Steakhouse, and I'm hoping that the wheels don't somehow fall off of UConn's thundering freight train.
They don't. Meyer wins and so do I. As I wait on a relatively short line to cash out my winning ticket, I send him a text of thanks and consider my own slab of rib eye over at Jean Georges.