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Where to enjoy the tourney Vegas-style

Somewhere between fancy soirees and $1 hot dogs lies March Madness nirvana

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Dancing with the devil: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski celebrates his team’s 2010 NCAA title.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

I recently interviewed a couple of handicappers who rely heavily on computer modeling to make their NCAA basketball tournament predictions. They spoke of using advanced mathematical techniques in their quest to find the optimal tournament wagers. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and I couldn’t wait to share my newfound knowledge. Then I noticed the big drawing point of a Las Vegas promotion geared toward March Madness gamblers was … wait for it … $1 hot dogs.

Sensing a disconnect, I was reminded of the words of renowned bracketologist Steve Martin, who said he learned early on how important it was never to alienate the audience. “Otherwise,” he cracked, “I would be like Dimitri in La Condition Humaine.” In other words, the overwhelming majority of the bettors and fans who will pack Las Vegas sports books, bars and restaurants throughout the NCAA tournament are not here to study spreadsheets.

They’re here for a party.

Apt comparisons have been made between March Madness and the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, with the total betting handle as well as the energy level generated by the two events roughly in the same ballpark—or casino ballroom, as it were. I’m going to try to find a middle ground between the hardcore sports bettors and the partiers in recommending a spot to make the most of March Madness in Las Vegas.

Neither the upscale tournament soirees for well-heeled gamblers at the big Strip resorts nor the $1 hot dog feasts for the rest of us appeal to me. With so many tournament games taking place on the same day, I cannot be confined to one particular casino. Betting lines, after all, are fluid, continually changing. They often vary by casino property. As someone who has been known to beat myself up for betting under 126 points when unbeknownst to me there was a 126 ½ available at a book across the street, I need to be able to shop around for the best number.

So give me Downtown Las Vegas for the tournament, Fremont Street, with its multiple competing sports books within easy walking distance of each other.

The variety of betting lines isn’t the only reason I’m going Downtown. I admit I find it oddly moving when the crowd at the Fremont Street Experience spontaneously sings along with every word of “American Pie” when it plays on the canopy. Emphasis on “oddly.”

The Fremont Street Experience is also home to the best free show I have seen anywhere in Las Vegas this year: A loud, heated, extended argument between a guy dressed like “The Crow” and a bearded gentleman holding a poster board extolling the benefits of following Jesus. Sorry, Bellagio fountains.

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