The Mirage Resort Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas gets crowded with basketball fans during NCAA March Madness. (Photo by Glenn Pinkerton/Las Vegas News Bureau via Getty Images)

Sweet 16 In Las Vegas: The Bellagio, Big Meals And Basketball Bets

Our man on the sunny streets gives a first-hand account of his trip to Las Vegas for the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, from the poker rooms to the best restaurants while hoping for a celebrity sighting.

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Sweet 16 In Las Vegas: Splitting The Pot And Betting Against Jimmer

It's a miracle. I ended Thursday, my first day in Las Vegas, slightly up on sports betting. It didn't start well though.

My first bet of the day was BYU on the money line to win. And, I finished a poker tournament--that I won, more on that later--just in time to see perhaps the most depressing part of the game. I literally got to the tv so that I could see BYU miss a free throw, Florida miss a shot, get the rebound for the last shot of regulation, miss it to send the game in to overtime, and then have BYU be demolished in overtime. Part of me felt like I caused the meltdown (well, the part of me that didn't blame the BYU honor code) since after my 1-9 record last trip, I was now on a seemingly impossible 1-10 run -- maybe worse; I don't remember my record from two years ago.

Then I watched the first half of Arizona-Duke from my room while getting ready for dinner where my run quickly went to 1-11 as Duke, not Arizona, was the first to score 15 points. Of course they were. The good news was that I had also bet the over (148) in that game and the points were coming fast and furious. Could I actually break my slump? The scores along the top also showed that my biggest potential victory, Butler to win at +190, was actually ahead even though my over in the game (123.5) was not looking particularly great. Just focus on Butler winning and Duke/Arizona going over, I thought, and I will be up for the day. And thank goodness I didn't bet on Arizona to win at +400: that would have been throwing away money, right?

We headed off to dinner with blackberries, iPhones, etc. all set to different updates to keep track of the scores. And when we finally sat down at Prime at Bellagio, they were all laid out on the table, refreshing every few seconds, showing me that I won my Duke/Arizona over, that anyone who did bet on Arizona cleaned up, and -- in something that almost made me spit up my drink -- Wisconsin had cut the Buter lead from 6,419 to 4 in about nine seconds. Appetizers? Can't you see I'm busy watching a bunch of three-inch tall screens simultaneously? Drinks? Get back to me in a minute as I may need many. Thankfully, Butler won and I'll be putting some additional bets on them on Saturday: you just don't make money betting against the Bulldogs.

I was also happy that we didn't put money down on what seemed like the biggest lock of the week, something that sounded so preposterous, it was like the casino was trying to give money away -- something I hear they don't do. Florida (giving just 5.5 points) to score more points in the first half as a team than Jimmer Fredette scores in the whole game. I couldn't imagine Florida, whose whole goal was to lock down Fredette, wouldn't score more in a half than Fredette did in the game. It looked even more ridiculous when Florida was scoring in bunches in the first ten minutes and Fredette was not shooting well. I didn't bet on it since I had BYU to win and betting against Fredette scoring a bunch and/or Florida having a big first half seemed too anti-karmic and would require rooting for a perfect storm of events. Good thing I didn't. Florida first half: 36; Fredette game score: 32. With the 5.5. points Florida was giving, Fredette won that bet by a point and a half. Vegas odds are crazy good.

The day in a whole was great. The spa at Bellagio may be one of the most relaxing places on Earth and it really set a nice tone for the vacation. Although having gorged myself at the breakfast buffet before that, I could have gone right back to sleep and that would have been relaxing too. I entered the noon Venetian tournament and got knocked out just before the first break at the 89 minute mark. Really I was decimated a few minutes earlier when I called another guy's all-in and it looked like I was going to almost double up when with just the river to come, I had the nut flush and he had a set of aces. But the board paired on the river to give him his full house and I was all but out. I then played 1-2 no limit and went way up before I made a stupid move on a guy who was over-agressive and never had anything--until he did. Or least I think he did, since I folded on the river having donated well over a hundred dollars to him on the hand. Ended up down a very small amount for the session, which I left because my buddy convinced me to enter the Venetian "Turbo Tournament," a 4 p.m. quick tournament where the blinds go up very fast. Usually, they get only about 20 people for this tournament, and this day they had half that, but it was still fun as my friend and I were two of the top three, and three got paid. He bowed out in third, and the other guy -- who introduced himself as Jeff--and I went back and forth for a while with the same stack. Finally, Jeff says to me, right after a hand is dealt (and he has looked at his cards, but I haven't), "this is fun, but we can chop (as in call a draw and split the pot) any time you like." I say sure. We talk for a couple of minutes and the dealer says he needs our cards back. Jeff turns over his K-Q suited and starts to say that he was about to basically push all-in, but figured he'd offer me the chop. I, having not even seen my cards, decide to just flip them over and see what I would have had: K-K. Oh, well.

Dinner at Prime was exceptional, although the crowd when we got there at 8 was enormous, and even with our reservation, we had to wait over 30 minutes to be seated. At least, when they did seat us, they gave us the nicest table in the place with the center view of the fountains. They probably should have offered us some free drinks too, but, alas, they did not. The most amusing part of the wait was after the hostess pointed out which table she was giving us and told us that they were just prepping it now. Ten minutes later, they were still putting out the silverware. It was like watching a scene from Inception, and I wondered if 30 seconds to the busboys was like ten minutes of real-time.

By the time dinner ended, I was wiped out. I know. Not even midnight in Vegas and I'm feeling like going to sleep? Lame. So, I toughed it out a bit to watch and advise one of my other friends play blackjack before heading up. With my friend basically even, a guy with a cigar sits down next to him and the fumes are overwhelming. This buddy of mine is not a big better and he's going at $10 a hand. So, I tell him, "look, you want to get up from the smoke and there have just been a bunch of low cards. Push in a bigger bet, make a score, and we'll get up." He goes to $20 (ok, maybe I had more in mind). He gets 7-7 and the dealer has a 2 showing. I tell him "split." He gets another 7. I shout "split again." Table is loving this even with not much money riding on it. His first of three sevens gets a 5, so he hits (as a 12 is the only above 11 count you hit on against a 2). He gets another 7 for 19. Great. Second seven. He gets a three. I shout "double." He doubles the bet and gets a ten. Third seven. He gets another three. The whole table now shouts "double!" He has to go to his wallet, but he doubles the bet and gets another ten, so his three hands are 19-20-20. At this point I am sort of glad he only put $20 down to start, because he now has $100 on the table, and I know that if it were more like $300, he'd be ready to kill me. After the 2, the dealer goes A-9-5 for a 17 and my friend was thrilled at his $100 pick-up. All's well that ends well and I was asleep 10 minutes later.

Still no celebrities sighted -- that I could tell anyway. And no one outrageously running naked through a casino or anything like that, but I will certainly report on that if it does happen. I do keep running into the very friendly ConExpo people. They make construction seem quite fun, something I would not have expected. I kept hearing the guy at the next blackjack table shout "It's like buying a flagpole at ConExpo! You should have bought the flagpole at ConExpo!" Someday, I'll figure out what that means.

The NCAA Tournament Bets For Friday

My roommate for the vacation already got out this morning at the crack of dawn to pick off any drunk stragglers at the poker tables -- not a bad strategy. I might join him. Still haven't decided whether I will enter a tournament today. I do know that I am putting some money on UNC to cover (-4 1/2) and VCU to win outright (probably around +170). I could balance that UNC bet by putting a few bucks on Marquette to win the whole thing at 30-1 or so--hey, it's possible--but I'm doubting that strategy. There's a lot to be said for Richmond (+10 1/2) or Kentucky (+6) covering, but free throws at the end really scare me. I'm already liking the underdogs to win on Saturday in Butler and Arizona over Florida and UConn.  I was actually hoping the UConn-Georgetown women's game would happen before I leave Sunday, because I can't imagine there is any line where I wouldn't go heavy for UConn.

Well, that's today's report. Overall, I'm up a bit, which is all I can ask from the first full day. Have to keep my energy up as, after seafood tonight, I have no plans on going to bed early two nights in a row.

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