March Madness in Vegas? You Bet! (Often.)

March 27, 2000

If Congress is really serious about banning betting on college
sports in Nevada, it'll mean war with Chili. Now going on his
30th hour without sleep, Chili, 27, is wedged against a rail at
the Mirage Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas on the first
Thursday of the NCAA tournament. He's got the latest in a
milelong line of cold beers in his right hand, a fistful of
$100-bet slips in his left, 25 big screens in front of him, nine
buddies giving him hell, and 12 hours and 16 games dead ahead.

It's 8 a.m.

"If they try to take bettin' on college hoops out of Vegas,"
says Chili, "they might as well kill me."

Him and the other unrepentant hoopheads who've turned the
opening four days of March Madness into Las Vegas's biggest
sports-betting spree: 96 hours of undering, overing, betting,
regretting, wailing and wallowing through 48 games--wall-to-wall
ball. "We've been coming here every year for 21 years," says one
unshaven heathen at the Luxor. "One of these years we're going
to go see a show, too."

For your average lugs, it's the closest thing to paradise this
side of Salma Hayek's underwear drawer. Petite cocktail
waitresses, wearing 39 cents worth of dress, bring them free
beer while four games vibrate on the big screens, everybody
cursing and behaving in ways not approved by Martha Stewart, a
stogie in every piehole, with no thoughts of their lawn mowers,
colons or minimum servings of fruits and vegetables. "Whaddya
mean?" Chili says between glugs. "I get a lime with every beer!"
This is a weekend when you can hear anything and usually do,
like this actual conversation at the Mirage.

Man No. 1 (distracted by game on TV): "You wanna go eat?"

(Pause)

Man No. 2 (distracted by game on TV): "Yeah. I'm starved."

(Pause)

Man No. 1: "So. O.K. Let's go."

(Pause)

Man No. 2: "O.K. Two more games."

This is a weekend when you can bet on anything and usually do.
Take these wagers offered by Vegas's Imperial Palace, the palace
of proposition bets: Will a No. 12 seed win a game? (No.) Will a
13, 14, 15 or 16 seed win a game? (No.) Will Lamar ever have the
lead versus Duke? (Yes.) Like your honeymoon, that last bet is
fun, but it's over in the first minute. Still, it's odd knowing
that there are more people in Las Vegas standing and screaming
for Lamar to win the tip than there are at Lamar.

This is the kind of stuff that keeps guys like Chili breathing,
for Chili is a man who enjoys his wagers. He once won $100 by
stowing himself in an airplane overhead luggage compartment. He
once bet a University of Cincinnati football player $25 that the
player wouldn't immerse his head in a pot of chili. Chili lost,
but he felt a lot better when the football player suddenly
realized that Chili had laced the chili with Tabasco. When Chili
comes back from the buy window, he usually announces, "Boys,
somebody's gonna go broke this weekend--me or the freakin'
casino." When he loses, he turns to one of his pals, opens up
his arms and says, "Hold me?"

If Congress passes S. 2021, the bill that bans betting on
college sports in Nevada, Chili will be crushed, but he'll live.
He'll still be able to bet the bejesus out of NCAA basketball
over the Internet, with bookies based in the Caribbean. (Nothing
in the bill about that.) He'll still be able to bet illegally
with his bookies back home.

In fact, passing the bill would be like trying to stop a
statewide flood in Oklahoma by fixing a leaky faucet in Enid.
Nevada handles only about 1% of the action on college sports.
Not that bookies and the mob wouldn't very much like to get
their hands on that 1%.

Witness for the bill, Mr. Vinny del Knuckles: "Uh, we think dis
is a real good bill. We suggest youse all go out and vote for it
a buncha times."

On Thursday afternoon word comes down that Congress has decided
to table discussion of the bill until at least May.

Senator No. 1 (distracted by game on TV): "You wanna discuss
this betting bill or what?"

(Pause)

Senator No. 2 (distracted by game on TV): "O.K. Two more games."

"I'm glad," Chili says with a burp and a glug. "Woulda taken the
magic out of it."

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

This is a time when you can bet on anything. Will a No. 12 seed
win? Will Lamar ever have the lead versus Duke?

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)