Die Hards Meet In Vegas To Gamble On NCAA Tourney

Thousands of people were expected in Las Vegas for the first weekend of NCAA men's college basketball tournament. It's one of the most lucrative weekends in Las Vegas. Casino officials say it draws more people than the Super Bowl.

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More people bet on the NCAA men's basketball tournament than on any other American sports event. Much of it happens in office bracket pools and even in the one place where it's legal to wager, that's Nevada, the amount has now surpassed the Super Bowl.

Over the tournament's first long weekend - there were 48 games - NPR's Ted Robbins was in Las Vegas and found some guys who bet on every one of them.

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TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Up to four basketball games are simultaneously on the 85-foot screen at the packed Mirage Hotel sports book. College students on spring break wander in to root for their teams. The hat guys and the Jersey guys are in big comfy seats and they're here for the duration.

SHELDON ANDERSON: You don't want to be standing for 18 hours, so we stay through the night. We take shifts.

ROBBINS: Sheldon Anderson and his brother Randy are the hat guys. They have a bag full of caps from every team they bet on. The Jersey guys are not wearing jerseys, they're from New Jersey. Michael Gross started this tradition 19 years ago.

MICHAEL GROSS: I am the culprit, yes.

ROBBINS: It began as a get-together of college roommates from Syracuse. Then, 17 years ago, the hat guys showed up from the Midwest.

GROSS: We met them here. We don't know them, but now we're fast friends. And we hug and kiss and we love each other for five days. We go nuts.

ROBBINS: This is the only time they see each other. Sheldon Anderson is a college professor from Minnesota, tall with a shock of white hair under his hat. He teaches European history. Michael Gross is short with a beard and not so much hair on top. He's a lawyer. This is what they have in common...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Go, foul 'em. They won. Yeah.

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ROBBINS: They are kindred spirits in March Madness. They bet everything but they don't bet big.

ANDERSON: If you have $5 on a game, you will watch it in a different way.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Sixty dollars, OK. Any other bets, sir?

ANDERSON: That's it.

ROBBINS: These guys know not to gamble more than they can afford to lose without getting angry.

GROSS: You can't assume you're going to go home with enough money to change your lifestyle. And you can't assume you're going to go home losing more money than it's going to change your lifestyle.

ROBBINS: They like winning. They like close games. What do they hate?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Bad basketball.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah, the guy has the ball, all he has to do is hold it - the game is over, and he throws it away.

ROBBINS: Its bad gambling etiquette to ask how much a bettor won or lost. The professor just says he's winning. One of the Jersey guys, Gary Applebaum, says he has no idea until he gets home and empties his pockets.

GARY APPLEBAUM: 'Cause I know what I brought here and I know what I'm bringing back, and that's how I know if I won or lost.

ROBBINS: By Sunday night, Michael Gross and the rest of the group are hoarse and tired.

GROSS: Exhausted. We take the red-eye back to Jersey Sunday night. Monday morning, we land at six o'clock in the morning and you go to work.

ROBBINS: They have plenty of time to recuperate before next year's opening rounds.

GROSS: The best week of the year.

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm David Greene.

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