On the afternoon of March 13, the culmination of a long and winding season and the end of a hectic couple of championship weeks will come to fruition when the 68 teams who will compete in the NCAA tournament are announced, much to the excitement of a basketball populace fully ready to be enveloped in March Madness.
And for Jay Rood and his team, Selection Sunday is just the start of the fun.
Rood, the vice president of race and sports at MGM International properties, is in charge of creating the lines for all of MGM's sports books. The NCAA tournament has developed into one of the major sporting events of his always-busy calendar, with the buzz beginning to build as soon as the brackets are released.
“We get the first look, and then we get to work on the futures, like who's going to win the region, props on the Final Four, props with seeding," says Rood, who works out of The Mirage. “We'll do a lot of that on Sunday night. We'll then turn our attention to the games on Monday morning after we've had a chance to digest the matchups. Sunday and Monday are busy days."
Rood and his staff of four bookmakers use some outside services to help validate what they have in mind, but for the most part, they've spent the entire season studying college basketball, from the Top 25 to the tiniest of conferences, to get prepared for March Madness and the rush of games that come up quickly.
“We're pretty familiar with all the teams," Rood says. “We don't cram. We trust what we've seen all season."
Of course, the goal of all Las Vegas casinos is to create a line that will bring in interest from both sides of the coin, which makes certain scenarios – like 16-seed vs. 1-seed matchups – difficult to forecast.
“It's hard," Rood says. “A 16-seed has never beaten a one-seed, so you have to be realistic in what you put out there. No matter how good a seed is, if you put something out there that's too short, you won't draw any action. We try to avoid having strong opinions.
“You have to be aware of who teams have played and what the situation is, because the one thing in college basketball that is really, really important is recent form. You might have a team that might have been doing great in the first third of the season, went through a slump and then gets hot again. That's what you are looking for."
The tournament's popularity has grown exponentially in recent years. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Resort Bureau, more than 98 percent of the city's rooms are booked during the first four days of the tournament, when fans flock to Sin City to enjoy a basketball bonanza of 48 games.
It can be a surreal experience watching the result of your work play out with each possession and every point, but Rood says it's one of his favorite times of the year.
“I'm in the back watching," he says. “Last year was absolutely crazy because the games fell in the house's way so lopsidedly. I'm fully expecting that this is the year for the market correction. It's going to be another great tournament because it's so wide-open. I think you could go up to 50 so-called experts and get 20 different teams who could win.
“I'm a big fan. I do exactly what the players are doing. Sometimes you see the fans forget about their tickets and cheer for the underdog. I'm sort of the same way. This year, I've already gotten my bosses online and said last year was once-in-a-lifetime. I said, we should expect to lose and if we win, we should be thrilled."
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