A scaled-down version of the epic March Madness in Las Vegas experience is returning in 2021.
In: Six-top seating in sports bars. Mostly out: casino ballroom parties.
Casino properties are scrambling to create an appropriate mix of venues. The challenge is to gather ardent fans cheering during NCAA Basketball Tournament games in places that meet COVID-19 health and safety procedures as mandated by the state of Nevada.
Before the pandemic washed out the 2020 college basketball tournament, March Madness had become a huge deal in Las Vegas. In years past, the tournament created 99-percent citywide room occupancy. Rooms and events were booked months out.
Casino officials say bookings for 2021 are down, but rising on a week-by-week basis. Social media activity also reflects increased interest.
On February 19, the popular Facebook page “March Madness in Las Vegas” polled its 14,500 members on their probability of coming back to Sin City for this year’s opening rounds of hoops action.
Of nearly 1,000 respondents, A majority (46 percent) said they were “passing this year.” However, that was down 3 percent from an identical poll taken on February 1.
The latter poll also showed that 42 percent of respondents are “definitely going”—up from 29 percent at the beginning of the month.
From ballrooms to sports bars & books
Up to 2019, sports fans came to Sin City to pack ballroom viewing parties, hang out in sports bars and wager in sports books.
This year, MGM Resorts has determined that no large-scale view parties will be set up in the company’s nine Las Vegas Strip properties that have sports books.
That list includes: ARIA, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, Park MGM and New York-New York.
“As of right now, we are not having large-scale viewing in ballrooms,” says MGM Resorts VP of Brand Marketing Sarah Moore. “As we continue to work with our Governor’s office and local authorities on capacity restrictions, we’ll be ready and able to pivot and create experiences as needed. Right now, safety is at the forefront of everything we’re doing.”
MGM Resorts casino properties are focusing on their food-and-beverage venues for March Madness viewing. In Las Vegas, it’s within health and safety protocols to allow groups of six to sit together at a table.
Moore says patrons can rent tables for blocks of hours at pubs, lounges and bars. Food-and beverage minimums will be in place.
Details continue to evolve. Contact venues directly for more information.
Moore adds: A slew of televisions has been added to MGM venues. Setting up satellite betting kiosks is being considered. The BetMGM app allows you to wager by phone from anywhere. And, venues will flex whenever possible to allow maximum viewing that’s within safety protocols.
“It’s a personal decision to travel right now,” Moore says. “People have wanted to escape to Vegas, and for those people, we have the right experience for them. “We’ll have that electric atmosphere of March Madness in smaller rooms with fewer people.”
MGM properties are also rolling out special offers that include room rates, food-and-beverage credits and reserved seating at certain venues.
Note: There’s no plan to charge for seating at sports books. For now, spots will be available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Capacity will be managed by onsite security.
More March Madness information
• Due to the coronavirus, all the NCAA Tournament games are being played in a bubble environment at sites in Indiana. Selection Sunday is March 14.
Since extra time is needed to test tournament participants, the First Four games will be played on Thursday, March 18. In a change from previous years, the first-round games are on Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20. The second round will be played on Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22.
• Other notable locations/venues that are hosting some form of March Madness in Las Vegas viewing action include: the new Stadium Swim at Circa Resort & Casino; Topgolf Las Vegas; and Beer Park at Paris Las Vegas.
• A great resource for other available venues: the aforementioned “March Madness in Las Vegas” Facebook page. Administrators and members post anecdotal information on a daily basis.
• On March 15, it’s highly possible that Nevada’s Gov. Steve Sisolak could further open public-gathering protocols and return the state to “full, pre-pause levels.” J&J