NCAA Goes From 'Over My Dead Body' To 'Party On!' In Las Vegas

March 24, 2023
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Less than five years after going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to save a federal sports-betting ban, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) on Thursday promoted and oversaw two March Madness college basketball games in the gambling capital of the United States.

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Less than five years after going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to save a federal sports-betting ban, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) on Thursday (March 23) promoted and oversaw two March Madness college basketball games in the gambling capital of the United States.

It has been a remarkable metamorphosis for the NCAA, which continues to move ever closer to dipping its toe into the sports-betting pond.

Until May 14, 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, it would have been unimaginable for the NCAA to allow any of its Men’s Tournament games, also known as March Madness, to be played in Las Vegas or anywhere else in Nevada.

But that is exactly what happened Thursday night when the University of Arkansas played the University of Connecticut and Gonzaga played UCLA at the T-Mobile Arena just off the Las Vegas Strip.

The NCAA did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for a comment on its evolution on the sports-betting issue.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA's formal policy was to prohibit Nevada or any other state offering sports betting from hosting championship events.

“The NCAA has figured out that Las Vegas isn’t the devil’s residence or workplace, and that gambling and betting are now almost everywhere,” said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“This also tells us how mainstream Las Vegas really is,” Green said.

Becky Harris, a former chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board who teaches gaming law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Boyd School of Law, said the March Madness games at T-Mobile Arena are “a recognition of the integrity of Nevada’s gaming regulation.”

“Since the Nevada Gaming Commission repealed the ban on wagering on in-state collegiate teams in 2001, Nevada has demonstrated that legal regulated sports wagering and collegiate sports can co-exist,” said Harris, who also served as a Nevada state senator from 2015 to 2018.

Another March Madness game will be played on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas between the winners of Thursday night’s games.

The winner of Saturday’s game will then advance to the Final Four in Houston.

A committee in the Texas House of Representatives conducted a lengthy hearing on gambling and sports-betting legislation on Wednesday (March 22), although the Lone Star State is part of a minority that have yet to legalize wagering on sports.

This year’s March Madness games are almost like a warm-up act for next year’s Super Bowl, which is scheduled to be played February 11, 2024 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

“Leaders, operators and our hospitality teams across the city are not taking this for granted,” said Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of Superbook Sports Operations at the Westgate Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

“We understand we must bring our ‘A’ game and make a great impression to keep these events coming back year after year,” Kornegay said.

As for the sports-betting revenue generated by March Madness games in Las Vegas, Kornegay said he expects local sportsbooks to see “a small spike.”

Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, said the games on Thursday and Saturday are more evidence that Las Vegas is “a remarkable sports town.”

“Bringing March Madness, one of the biggest sporting events — and sports betting events — of the year to Las Vegas is more validation of the productive and responsible intersection of these two great entertainment verticals,” Clark said.

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