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Surviving March Madness In Vegas - Part II...By Nelson Lardner

Wrapping up what's always one of the most entertaining, intriguing weekends on the sporting calendar . ..

The circus - the opening weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament - has taken its final bows for another year, and we're all the poorer for it.

Wellllllll . . . maybe not ALL of us . . . but the opening two days were not the candy store the professionals have come to count on, over the years. The savage early run of galloping favorites infuriated the wise guys, who have counted on obviously-superior teams NOT putting the pedal to the metal early. Barring exceptions like last year's Florida Gators, it's exceedingly-rare for a tourney winner to cover in all six of their Madness engagements. As in all major team sports, pacing's important, even in an apparent sprint like the NCAAs -- and the best coaches know it.

But no prisoners were taken in the early stages. The books couldn't have minded that much . . . let the public win a little, early - they'll give it back. The goal behind the counter is to skin the sharps - and when the chalk keeps winning, the wiseguys tend to go naked (see: NFL, 2005 . . . ).

The public makes it hard enough on themselves, taking bad numbers on tough props. On the weekend, stayed at an off-strip property that was hosting a considerable representation from the Twin Cities area. Witnessed one of 'em plunking down their $20 on the Twins to win the '07 World Series, taking 8-1. "Know you've seen a lot of us, doing this," the player said, as the clerk nodded. "Know the price is 10-1 on the Strip, too, but can't get there." To say the least . . . not to mention that the Twinkies are almost 12-1 to win the AMERICAN LEAGUE at Pinnacle, and over 20-1 to win the Fall Classic there.

For a book, the basic menu items (sides/spreads/-110) can be a slow grind. It's the side dishes and liquor which provide the gravy (high-vig props, futures, et al). Compared to foreign enterprises, most Vegas books are notoriously stingy with futures prices, and if you don't shop, it simply compounds the felony.

It's just an additional object lesson in terms of how much of the upper hand a book enjoys when in battle against unsophisticated consumers. For those across the Atlantic, among the delights of booking European soccer (over and above the laughable three-way-odds "offerings", and the frequently entrancing eccentricities of those officiating major matches) is the rampant nationalism of most true Euro soccer believers. All other things being equal, the English will back the English, the French will flutter with the French, etcetera, etcetera. If your birthright squad is considerably underrated by the layers over the course of a season, you may make out. Otherwise, you're making a contribution in return for the intermittent heating of your coursing sporting blood.

It's no different stateside. Big Apple bookies hold the fort, marking up the Yankees and Giants (and the Mets, Jets and Rangers, when they're any good). And blind allegiances affect many Vegas prices. Vegas is virtually a Phoenix suburb, and the Suns and Wildcats get pounded up and down the strip when they're riding high. Then there are the invading hoardes from far afield, as mentioned above. Minnesotans backing Twin Cities entities . . . and the most devoted of all Big Ten travelers, the loyal supporters of Madison's Badgers. On the occasions the football team has made the trek to Southern Nevada, Wisconsin backers were superb travelers . . . and believe me, folks were tripping over them left and right, during this year's NCAA opening weekend in LV. Bo Ryan might have been nursing his squad along, sans Brian Butch, hoping against hope he could get his team whole and healthy in time for the tourney's second week. Worked against Texas A&M/Corpus . . . didn't work versus Vegas, but Wisky supporters were at the books, pounding away - and unless they were very good shoppers prior to the opener, lost both plays. The books thank you. Be well, loyalists, and come back soon.

In the area of outside-the-box thinking re book promotion this silly season, the Hard Rock won this year's award. If you stepped up to the plate with $250 or more on a Madness game, Hard Rock writers would disgorge a basketball ticket when requested, which you could take to a freethrow-shooting locale on the fringe of the primary tournament viewing area at the HR. Make your freethrow, and you got two prize vouchers; miss, you received one. It's not nearly the equal of getting -105 (though some of the better vouchers, good at certain house restaurants, were rewarding), but the promo was a good fit with the spirit of the establishment, and we give mucho points for the imagination employed.

To perform at your best, you have to battle the distractions of the town. The locals enjoy a huge advantage in this area. It's easy to tell. You can instantly spot the boobus visitus Vegas, by one frequently-displayed characteristic: so often, while walking forward, they're looking sideways, or behind them. It'd be amusing, if it weren't so irritating. By executing the pedal equivalent of driving blindfolded, they're absolving themselves of all responsibility. If they run into you while walking, it's YOUR fault, Bunky, because YOU weren't paying sufficient attention to get out of their way.

But then, Vegas was built on the premise of visitors absolving themselves of all responsibility - except when it comes to DUI, the primary crime Metro will not forgive. At least on the surface . . . you see billboards all over town with the implicit come-on being that for from $1200 to $1500, you can even beat this toughest of Vegas moving-violation raps. Vegas rewards self-responsibily - don't put yourself in a position, either at the betting windows or behind the wheel, which could devolve into something most-unpleasant and expensive, should you be caught out of line . . .

Those not dull/stupid can have a great time, at minimal expense. Otherwise, the piper is a heavy favorite to get paid, big.

Nelson Lardner

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