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Best of Chris Sieroty
Most of the seats are filled with fans who have wagered a few dollars before watching their favorite college team.
But as this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament gets under way, local sports books are looking to pick up a little extra business by offering something fans can't get anywhere else.
That includes the Las Vegas Hilton, which on Thursday unveils its Fan Cave.
"Sports betting, especially on college basketball, has been very consistent during this tough climate," said Jay Kornegay, director of race and sports operations at the Las Vegas Hilton. "Where else can you bet $5 and be entertained for three hours."
The Fan Cave, formerly the poker room at the Hilton, will be the new sports viewing room. He said the location is smoke-free, with lounge chair seating and three 120-inch high definition screens.
"Our biggest complaint from our customers was that there was no nonsmoking area to watch a game," he said. "We've created a really nice room, with great seating. We can show 16 different events at any one time."
The Hilton also plans to open its 1,500-seat Hilton Theater for the tournament through March 20.
"We will have five screens in the theater for Hoops Central," Kornegay said. "The Hoops Central promotion is the same concept as our Football Central we host on Sundays during the NFL season."
Hoops Central will open today through Saturday at 8 a.m. and at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. There will be free admission to the Hilton Theater, along with food and drink specials and giveaways.
Kornegay said the goal is to keep customers happy by setting up a living-room atmosphere where fans can enjoy the game.
"It's crazy. It will be standing room only in a 1,500-seat theater to watch these games," said Kornegay. He said that the sports book will also reserve an area on the horse racing side for choice customers.
While he's excited about the NCAA men's tournament, Kornegay said if the NFL lockout lasts into this year's regular season, he'd be forced to find other events to fill the space and boost the book's handle.
He declined to discuss costs for either space or expected handle from the tournament. The Nevada sports book handle was $87.5 million for this year's Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the NCAA men's basketball tournament lasts for three weeks in March and April with a handle estimated at less than 1 percent of the total wagered annually. Race and sports books in Nevada reported a $2.5 billion handle for 2010.
Kornegay said he expected hundreds of fans to line up to get in before 8 a.m. each day of the tournament.
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