The Super Bowl is an undeniably huge day for wagering in Las Vegas. But it's just a single game, on a single day. March Madness, on the other hand, features dozens of games spread over several weeks.
Here are a few reasons why pretty much every business in Las Vegas gets extra excited when NCAA men's basketball tournament time rolls each year:
Hotels are absolutely jammed. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, during the first weekend of March Madness in 2013, Sin City hotels were 97.7% full. Hotel occupancy stood at a mere 86% for the 2014 Super Bowl, by contrast.
The Madness woos record-setting crowds. Thanks largely to the NCAA basketball tournament, 3.54 million visitors hit Vegas in March 2013, the best month ever. That record is expected to be broken this March in Las Vegas.
Fans fork over big bucks. At the ultra-high-end sports bar Lagasse's Stadium at the Palazzo, patrons pay $300 for a day's worth of food, booze, and game watching, and hundreds of fans reserve their spots months in advance. That's actually cheap compared to a viewing-dining-drinking package at Carmine's inside Caesars Palace, highlighted recently by Vegas Chatter. The package includes "TVs, video games, comfy recliners, and a beer pong table," as well as an "all day feast of family style Italian favorites," all for a mere … $50,000. The price covers 25 people, so $2K per person.
There are a bajillion bets to be made. The Super Bowl is one game. Sure, there are dozens of prop bets related to the game every year—like whether or not Beyonce would show cleavage during her 2013 halftime performance—but the dozens and dozens of matchups in March Madness brackets bring with them an enormous multitude of betting scenarios. Beyond picking winners, over-unders, and whatnot, this year's tournament also comes with its own share of prop bets, including the largest margin of victory by any team in round one (32.5 points) and how many game-winning buzzer beaters there will be.
How much is bet on March Madness in Las Vegas? Estimates are all over the map, but they're all big. A Dallas Morning News story offered numbers ranging from $90 million to $227 million wagered in Vegas last year on the tournament. MGM Resorts International executive Jay Rood told the Review-Journal that Vegas sports books would take in $200 million in bets just during the first four days of 2014 tournament. “You have four mini-Super Bowls,” he said.
It's spread over a long time period. Again, the Super Bowl is one game, played on a single day. Tourists who want to experience the Super Bowl in Vegas may make a weekend of it, but visitors hitting the city for March Madness are far more likely to come and experience four days' worth of games this weekend. Next weekend, more visitors are likely to do the same. And there's still one more weekend after that for the tournament, when the final four of "March Madness" will actually take place in early April. They all represent huge influxes of crowds eager to meet up with college buddies, gamble, eat, drink, and, oh yeah, watch some basketball.
Given all the attention—and money—drawn to Vegas for the tournament, it's understandable that some others want in on the action. Like folks in New Jersey. A group of state lawmakers just so happens to be using the tipoff of March Madness 2014 as the moment to argue that Atlantic City should be allowed to offer sports betting.
"They have it in Vegas and the rooms are overbooked," Senate President Steve Sweeney said recently near the Atlantic City boardwalk, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's a $12 billion a year underground industry. Much of it is done illegally. Let's legalize it."