A tourney lesson learned in Vegas proves very valuable at home …

Two years ago, I decided to do what all American sports fans with an affinity for having some action on a game should do.

I went to Las Vegas for March Madness.

Consider it a pilgrimage. There’s no better place to be, not even the actual games, than Vegas for this made-for-gambling event. Of course, if you actually want to be able to sit down while watching any of the games, then maybe Vegas in March isn’t for you.

It was during this trip that I actually learned an important sports betting technique and it came from simple observation.

My journey started on a Wednesday, the day before the 2010 tourney began. I left the SGV for Nevada and arrived at the Bellagio by early afternoon. After checking in and dropping my luggage in my room, I headed straight to the sports book.

There’s simply nothing like a sports book. I’m sure most of you have been in one, but it never gets old and only continues to get better due to technology. There are now high-definition big screens in some books, but those aren’t the big draw; the odds board is.

Team names and numbers and odds and totals and point spreads all in lights spread across huge wall space. You can literally blow hours just staring up at the odds boards … so I did.

I came to Vegas for that trip armed with ample cash and a hankering to bet a postseason tournament featuring teams that I had seen next to nothing of. In exchange for having the best postseason of any sport, college basketball has sacrificed its regular season, which is by far the most worthless and meaningless of any sport.

So there I was, doing what countless thousands will do this very week, staring up at an odds board that featured teams I knew very little about. How the heck would I find anything to bet? The usual suspects, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, et al, were heavy first-round favorites. The rest of it was gibberish.

After sitting in a recliner for a good two hours and alternating between watching the board and watching the people line up and make their bets, I decided it was time to do the other main thing I had come to Vegas for — eat.

What happened in the next 45 minutes determined the positive financial outcome of the trip and equipped me with a mental approach that I will forever apply to the tourney. This year especially. Oh yeah, the beef chow mein at “Noodles” inside Bellagio was pretty damn epic, too.

It’s in that restaurant where I put together everything I’d just seen a little while earlier in the sports book. All these guys lining up to get down were pretty much suckers. I kinda doubted there was one legit bettor in the group. Instead, they were just like me — just another guy in town with a head of currency cabbage in his pocket ready to plunk it down on the spectacle that is the tournament.

Most of these guys knew nothing about the other 61 or so teams in the tourney not named Kentucky, Duke or UNC, either. They were there more for action than to win. My strategy now became real clear. I made my way back to the book, waited in line and upon arriving at the window bet EVERY underdog in all 16 of Thursday’s first-round games.

The following morning I awoke, turned on the TV in my room and ordered corned-beef hash and eggs from Bellagio’s room service. When the guy taking the order told me “We make our corned-beef hash right here on the premises, Mr. Toleegrand,” I knew it was going to be a good day. And it was. The underdogs went 12-4 against the Vegas number.

Betting all the underdogs blindly thist today, or any Thursday for that matter, does not ensure you’ll reap the kind of profits I did. Heck, you might even lose money. By no means am I trying to tell you that in 2010 I solved the riddle that is Vegas and sports betting. What I am trying to tell you is that if you adopt the thinking behind what led me to blindly bet the ‘dogs and apply it to most any sporting event in which the public is heavily involved from a gambling perspective, then over the long haul you are likely to cash more winners than losers.

As for this year’s tournament. Using the methodology I just described and taking it a step further, I will be looking to bet against the teams that are fresh in everyone’s minds because of the strong performances they had last week. This will mean betting on teams that I’ve never actually watched before. In the first round, I like Davidson +7.5 points over Louisville, LIU-Brooklyn +20 over Michigan St., Norfolk St. +22 over Missouri and St. Bonaventure +7 over Florida St.

For those of you filling out brackets, might I suggest to take a more wise-guy approach this year. The elite teams are not as talented as years past. The gap between them and the mid-majors is closer than any time I can recall in recent history, and that’s saying something considering both Butler and Virginia Commonwealth reached the Final Four last season.

Just remember, the masses come out of hibernation to bet the tournament. The masses aren’t interested in betting on the Murray States or Wichita States of the world. They like the name teams no matter how down they might be this season. If I’m right, and who knows whether that’s a good or bad bet at this point, this tournament should be one for ages … for the wise guys especially.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT

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