I found a perfect way to find peace during March Madness


LAS VEGAS – The only thing better than being emersed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament is doing it at a Las Vegas casino sportsbook.

There’s nothing better – or more intoxicating – than free drinks and 50 televisions with eight different games simultaneously.

Over/under bets. Favorites or underdogs. The choices were enough to make your mind spin. So you have a beer. Or two. After a couple of buckets, you do dumb things like Fairleigh Dickinson to beat top-seeded Purdue in the first round. Oddly enough, it was a winner.

I gave my server, Carla, a big assist – and a tip – for that winning ticket because she kept taking my order.

It’s been years since I joined my high school friends for our annual Boys Weekend. I won’t miss another one. We’ve all been buddies for more than 50 years. Instead of talking about new cars and girlfriends as we did in high school, we now discuss Medicare Advantage plans, heart stints, cataract surgery, c-paps, gallbladders, artificial knees and new elbows.

We shut off our phones. We took turns sitting watch five hours in advance at the sportsbook to hold our seats ahead of tipoffs. Strangely enough, we weren’t the first down there.

Then we watched games. And yelled. And had a great time.

The only teams in the tournament I saw this year were Houston and Memphis. That’s because they both played against Central Florida. So I went to Las Vegas without a clue. That plan served me – and my bank account – nicely.

I was amazed at how basketball styles have changed since our last Boys Weekend. Except for Michigan State, teams were content with running a half-court game.

There was very little up-tempo offense. I don’t know if that’s because there are more commercials – and many of them several minutes long – so it was difficult for a team to get into a fast-paced rhythm. With the slower pace, my buddies Dan and Tom feasted on betting the under where total points scored by both teams were less than the projected number set by the casino.

They also jumped on a bet I’d never seen before. You can pick the national champion conference before the tournament bregan. The options were the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, Big East, Big 12 or the field. The field consists of teams considered to be from smaller, presumably less-deserving conferences.

Maybe Dan and Tom knew something. Houston, San Diego State, Creighton, Princeton, Gonzaga and Florida Atlantic are still playing – and all are field bet teams.

Big-name schools like Kansas, Purdue, Virginia, Arizona, Marquette, Kentucky and Duke took early flights home after being upset.

Winning a few extra dollars was nice, but the best part of the trip was getting away, enjoying the people who’ve been a big part of your life and turning the outside noise of life off. It’s strange, but the best way to unwind and find peace was to be in the middle of a frantic casino.

Now that I’m home, I’ve watched very little of the tournament. When you’re not with your buddies rooting for teams you’ve never seen, it loses its magic.

I still believe Alabama will play Houston for the national championship. I picked those two teams because that’s how my bracket pool wound up. Dan and Tom would love to see that, too, since they’ll win the conference bet if Houston prevails.

Now that I’m home, I’ll watch very little of the tournament. I’ve had my fun. When you’re not with your buddies rooting for teams you’ve never seen, it loses its magic.

Besides, Carla is too far away to take my order.


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