Friday, March 17, 2006

March Madness

I got up early Thursday to grab me a spot for the day in the Hilton sportsbook. Being in Nevada in March, I didn’t plan to miss my chance to catch all of the NCAA tournament action amongst the degenerate sport bettors of the country. The sportsbook was unsurprisingly much busier than I had seen it earlier in the week.

I ended up sitting in the third row beside an accountant named Dave from Oakland, a congenial 38-year-old who works for a maker of fine chocolates – the kind of chocolates not sold in stores that either Dave or I would frequent. Dave said he takes the first two days of the tournament off every year so he can watch without interference, and he often goes to a sportsbook so he can watch all of the games at once. We both had our stacks of betting slips handy as we followed the action. Mine included a couple of $5 longshot 12-team parlays that would pay $5,000 if they hit and, of course, a $25 bet on Bama at +2.5 against Marquette.

I only had a passing interest in most of the early games, but enjoyed listening to the cheers and groans as the bettors reacted to how their horses were faring. If you’ve never watched a major sporting event in a sportsbook, I recommend it.

Bama opened strong, taking a 44-30 halftime lead. Guard Jean Felix, one of our top bricklayers, whose philosophy is shoot until you hit, couldn’t miss a three. He poured in something like 35 points as Bama held on for a 90-85 win. I let out a big “Roll Tide” that was followed by another “Roll Tide” from a woman across the way. No doubt her return call was based on finances, not a fan’s emotion.

I’ve found I don’t like Reno too well because it looks too damn much like downtown Vegas. You’ve got pawn shops and wedding chapels intermingled with the casinos in downtown. It looks like a dump. Only the snow-covered mountains in the distance provide a scenic respite. I also like this coffee house, Java Jungle, I use to log on to the net. As I type an Irishman clad in green is singing “I Would Walk 500 Miles” while strumming his guitar, providing some free St. Patty’s day musical entertainment.

The Hilton is also on the other side of the interstate from downtown and, I’m told, a 25-minute walk to the other casinos (through an area much like that between the Strip and Downtown in Vegas.) Without my own transportation and economical travel available, the place feels like an island. You can get to downtown for free from here, but you have to take a shuttle from here to the airport and then another shuttle from the airport to your downtown casino of choice. I tried it today and it took about an hour. That’s no problem when you’re in no hurry.

Ted drove me in his big Ford diesel to find the coffee shop on Wednesday so I could post my earlier blog entries and check email, and then we headed to the Peppermill to play a NLHE tourney. The casino is a feast for the eyes, with a low ceiling and dark atmosphere that is interrupted by the bright neon lights that are everywhere in this joint. The poker room is also dark with bright lights with green shades, similar to what you see above many pool tables, providing adequate light for the games. As usual, I started well in the tournament, lost a couple of coin flips, and finished out of the money. Ted took second for $350 or so.

I haven’t played much poker since, choosing to spend most of the last couple of days watching basketball and protecting my bankroll to ensure it will last for two more weeks. Oh to be broke with a week left to spend in a town like Reno. I perish the thought.

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