I spent the first morning of the NCAA tournament -- the real tournament, not those silly play-in games -- at Caesars. All around me was a perfect storm of happiness and bliss: drunk college girls on spring break, waiting for the clouds to clear so they could hit the pool, teetered by the Munchbar; drunk college guys sitting around tables in the sports book, which were littered with cans of Miller Lite, Red Bull and sheets with all the lines for Thursday's games. They scribbled furiously and with a purpose. And all around the book, in a standing-room-only ring, was various riff-raff dressed in green shirts, green hats, green pants and, after a too long night spent drinking at Shadow Bar, green faces.
The NCAA tournament, spring break and St. Patrick's Day all at the same time! This was Charlie Sheen territory. Not even Vegas could survive this, I thought. We were all going to be sucked into a vortex of shame and regret, passing scenes of ourselves dancing on the banquettes at Lavo or spending our bonus at Olympic Gardens. Then we'd be spit out in the courtyard of the Joseph Smith Building in Provo, where we would spend eternity drinking decaf and getting lessons in repenting from Brandon Davies.
I needed to find a safe place. Shortly after Louisville was dropkicked by Morehead State I made a mad dash for my car. I pulled out of the hotel and turned left onto Las Vegas Boulevard. I drove past the Palazzo and the Wynn, where people crowded into the streets because the sidewalks were bursting. I waved goodbye to the Peppermill, putting The Strip in my rearview mirror. Within a few minutes I saw the chapel parking lot where they shot some of "The Hangover" and then the sacred spot in Vegas where both Joan Collins and Michael Jordan got married, but not to each other. I was getting close to downtown. Pretty soon, the only crowd on Las Vegas Boulevard was the one outside a pawnshop. The line to get in was around the corner.
Finally, at the intersection of Stewart and Las Vegas Boulevard, I saw it: City Hall. I had to check in with the Mayor. If Sin City was going to crumble, he'd have a bunker somewhere.
You may remember I did a podcast with Mayor Oscar Goodman about a month or so ago. I can't imagine a civil servant who has had more fun during his time in office. The one-time mob lawyer turned politico sits in an actual throne that was presented to him several years ago by his fellow city bosses from around the country, when the conference of mayors was held in Las Vegas. He's spearheading the building of the mob museum in the old federal courthouse, which he can see from the picture windows of his 10th-floor office. In a glass case outside his corner suite, there's a photo of him pretending to knock out Ali. And on the floor, ready to eventually move into the museum, is a shot of the body of former Gambino crime boss Albert Anastasia, right after he was gunned down in a barbershop.
"We've got the chair he was sitting in," Goodman told me. "It will go in the museum."
The Mayor had just come back from marshalling the Paddy's Day Parade at New York New York. On his semi-circle desk -- next to a box of poker chips with Goodman's caricature and the phrase "The Happiest Mayor of The Greatest City in the World" -- was the list of his NCAA tournament action. "I had Butler, West Virginia and Princeton to cover," Goodman says. "But I also had Temple minus-2.5, Louisville and UNC-Asheville."
For a second we started talking about Bucknell, which was a 10-point underdog against UConn. I mentioned this was a game where the line had moved quite a bit in Bucknell's direction because the wiseguys seemed to like it. He answered, "I don't follow the wiseguys. I tried that and lost. Now they should follow me."
Goodman is brash, the way a longtime criminal defense attorney should be, but curious, the way a lawyer should be. He likes to walk the town with showgirls and preach about the joy of good gin. He got into betting years ago because "my whole day was action as I tried to defend people and I didn't want to slow down. So at night I started betting sports."
We sat in his office for about 30 minutes shooting the breeze, trading stories about bad beats, mobsters, getting cited for contempt, how he got a call from O.J.'s agent while AC was driving the Ford Bronco and how some guys can just disappear and never get caught. We talked about how he's only got a few months left in office and the one thing he really wants is for Vegas to get a pro team. It's not going to happen before the end of his reign. But his wife is running for mayor. "And she's polling pretty well," he says.
When his assistant buzzed that his three o'clock was waiting, I got up to leave. He handed me a Mayor Goodman poker chip and said, "Here, this will help you get lucky."
It did. I know because when I woke up this morning Vegas was still standing.
Now, onto the Wiseguy Bracket breakdown, featuring Paul Stone, a college sports specialist whose work appears in the Las Vegas Review Journal, and Edward Golden of Right Angle Sports.
Paul Stone Picks -- East
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