LAS VEGAS – Eventually, someone was going to spill the beans on what happens in Vegas.
It might as well be me.
OK, let me take a deep breath. Be strong. Tell the truth. The rest of America deserves to know.
Here we go.
It’s a Nerd Convention.
What, you expected something else?
While the rest of you worked, slept and made contributions to society for the past few days, I took a vacation to Las Vegas, where I joined 10 friends for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. Although I had been to Las Vegas before, it never coincided with the four-day basketball frenzy.
What I saw in the dark, smoky sportsbooks along the strip was the biggest upset of the weekend.
This wasn’t Sin City. This was Stat City.
A similar scene played out at Bally’s, Paris, Caesars Palace, Aria, MGM and so many other famous casinos up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. Everywhere were Nerds looking to win some money.
I know this because I was one.
Men of all ages huddled around large, electronic boards that posted up-to-the-second odds on each game in the tournament. Others sat at cheap folding tables and stared down at pages of information about teams and trends and tournament sites. Casinos provided some of the data, while others arrived with a few trees’ worth of personal research that was stuffed into manila envelopes.
Once they were ready to place money behind their predictions, the Nerds arose.
I stood in line with the rest of them.
About 20 minutes later, I made my bets with a friendly clerk named Eddie. He told me that he would work a 14-hour day, starting at 8 a.m. and not finishing until 10 p.m. I asked him whether this was the next-craziest weekend after the Super Bowl, and he quickly corrected me.
This was crazier.
“The Super Bowl is one day,” Eddie said. “This is the entire weekend.”
Compared with other Nerds, I was underprepared. I had watched maybe five to 10 college games during the season, and I could name a player from only 15 of 64 teams in the tourney.
I know this because my best friend and I studied a blank bracket and tried to name a player from each of the teams. This is how we spent part of our Vegas vacation.
Like I said, we’re Nerds.
We didn’t dress the part as well as we could have. Most of the Nerds wore college gear regardless of whether they graduated in 1950 or 2012. I tried to keep a mental checklist of all of the schools that I saw represented, but I quickly lost track as the number climbed into the multiple dozens.
My favorite overall sportswear: A pudgy guy in a Carlos Quentin White Sox shirtsey, a lanky guy in a Brandon Marshall Broncos shirtsey, and a middle-aged woman in an Earl Thomas Seahawks jersey.
I won’t bore you with the details of every wager, but the bottom line is I won 11 bets and lost seven. Because I preferred to win smaller bets and lose larger bets, I won a whopping $25 in three days.
That covered two drinks at the nightclub. Um, I mean, green teas for everyone at the book club.
The transformation from fan to gambler proved to be disorienting and a little exhausting.
No longer was a win enough. I needed a win by at least 12 points, Louisville! (They won by 26.) I needed a win by at least five, Saint Louis! (They lost by 17.) I couldn’t afford for you to lose by eight or more, Wichita State! (They won by six. Argh, I should have bet the Shockers to win straight up.)
No longer did a game’s final buzzer determine every win or loss. Everywhere, money was on the line.
As Nerds watched games on giant projection screens inside the casino, a vocal minority cheered for South Dakota State to beat a 6 1/2-point halftime spread against Michigan. The Jackrabbits did so, and the happy gamblers lined up to collect their winnings, unaffected by the fact that Michigan would cruise to an easy 15-point win thanks to a dominant second half.
Ultimately, we watched only a handful of games in full.
For the most part, we placed bets in the morning, went to the pool in the afternoon and ate to excess at buffets in the evening. I forget what we did at night. Board games, maybe.
We had a blast.
Because the real point of the trip was to hang out with close friends. Most of us used to see each other every day during college, but now the group gatherings are once or twice a year.
So go ahead and put $20 on Virginia Commonwealth and meet us at the front of the casino.
Let’s go grab some drinks and recite old movie quotes for the 5,000th time.
Like I said, we’re Nerds.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.