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Top-10 sporting events to witness while in Las Vegas

22 March 2010

By Gary Trask

For a sports fan, there's nothing like being at a big event, in person. Sure, some sports are better served by watching them on TV, but nothing can replace actually sitting in the arena of a big game, eating up the atmosphere and reveling along with the rest of the crowd.

But if you can't score a ticket to the big game – or if you're an avid sports bettor – the next best place to be for an important sporting event is Las Vegas. Actually, strike that. Often times if you ask a sports bettor, he or she will tell you that Las Vegas would be preferred over the actual site of the game, for many reasons, not the least of which is that you can legally wager on the event.

The sports betting calendar is full of big events, but if you call yourself a true sports bettor, here are 10 you want to try and witness Las Vegas style at least once in your life.

WSOP

Seeing the WSOP Main Event champ get crowned during the November Nine in Las Vegas is a must for all poker fans (photo by Vin Narayanan)

10. World Series of Poker
If you're a poker fan, attending the WSOP in Las Vegas is an absolute must. You'll be amazed at just how close you can get to the action and how accessible the players are for autographs and pictures. The WSOP begins in late May and runs all the way through mid-July, so there's plenty of time to get there. And don't forget the November Nine final table format has become like Super Bowl weekend in the NFL. Watching the Main Event champion get crowned inside the Penn & Teller Theater is something you simply have to see in person.

If you do decide to make the trek to the WSOP this year, don't miss our article from last summer, Top-10 tips for planing your trip to the WSOP.

9. New Year's Day
About 10 years ago, this would have ranked much, much higher on this list. But the greed of TV executives and the NCAA has really put a damper on what used to be one of the greatest days in sports betting. Back in the day, there used to be eight or nine college football bowl games on New Year's Day, including all of the traditional big games. But over the course of the last decade, the day has been limited to just five games or so. But even still, this is a perfect day to be in Las Vegas. It's college football at its finest and the action begins early (8 a.m. Vegas time) and runs late, with the last game -- usually the Sugar Bowl -- kicking off at 5 p.m. And as an added bonus, you get to spend New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, so all in all, this is still a great day to find yourself in Sin City.

8. Breeders' Cup
You don't have a to be a huge horse racing guy to enjoy Breeders' Cup Day in Las Vegas. Each race is worth at least $1 million and that means they attract the best competition in the world. In 2007, the Breeders' Cup added three more races and expanded it to a two-day format.

Last fall the Breeders' Cup coincided with the WSOP November Nine, which meant yours truly and Casino City Managing Editor Vin Narayanan just so happened to be in town. On Day 1, we set up camp at the Wynn Race & Sports Book, brought along a stack of daily newspapers, the Daily Racing Form and a few cigars and had a blast watching and betting on the races Cup all day long. We even made some money in the process. I can think of a lot of worse ways to spend a Friday afternoon.

7. Kentucky Derby
Let's stay with horse racing and go with the annual Run for the Roses. The Derby is first jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown and is easily the most notorious of the three. There are plenty of parties and events planned in Las Vegas along with the Derby where you can go and enjoy a Mint Julep and bet the big race.

But one of the best draws of being in Las Vegas for the Derby is that it's held the first Saturday in May, meaning there's plenty of other great action going on with the NBA and NHL playoffs underway. And looking ahead to this year's Derby, May 1 is also the date of the big Floyd Mayweather-Sugar Shane Mosley fight at the MGM. Now that's what I call perfect timing.

6. A Game 7
Speaking of the NHL and NBA Playoffs, a Game 7 of any sport is always electrifying, which means it's a great time to be sitting in a sportsbook where the game will most likely be on the prime TV and most of the crowd will be into it. If we had our choice, an NHL Game 7 – preferably the Stanley Cup Finals – would be the premier one to see. Deciding Game 7s in the NHL always somehow seem to live up to the hype.

5. NFL Championship Sunday
Of course, the ultimate football day to be in Las Vegas is Super Bowl Sunday (more on that later), but a close second would be Championship Sunday, because you're getting two hotly contested games in one day. The Super Bowl is still great, but the game itself doesn't begin until later in the day whereas Championship Sunday provides a full day of football. In fact, this could be the most underrated day on this list.

4. Final Four
Here's another day that's great because you get not one, but two games with huge implications. Final Four parties are numerous throughout Las Vegas and it's a great time of year to visit because the weather is perfect and the pools are all open.

lagasses_Stadium

Being in a Las Vegas sportsbook -- like Lagasse's Stadium at the Palazzo -- is sometimes just as exciting at being at the actual event you are watching.

3. Super Bowl Sunday
This is a basically a national holiday in the U.S. And what's made Super Sunday even greater is over the last decade we have seen some incredible games on the field, as opposed to the 1990s when blowouts were frequent.

Another factor that makes Super Bowl Sunday in Las Vegas so enticing is the vast amount of proposition bets that are now available on the game.

2. Boxing title match
Unfortunately, it has been a long time since boxing was king. And even more unfortunate is the fact that we almost got treated to one of the biggest fights this generation has ever seen if Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather could have put their differences aside and met in the squared circle this spring. Who knows if that blockbuster would have even been fought in Vegas, but I digress.

The bottom line is that there is nothing like the atmosphere that surrounds a big boxing match. And there is no better place in the world to host a big boxing match than Las Vegas. Some of the most memorable fights in the history of the sport have been played out in Sin City. Hopefully those days aren't gone forever.

1. Round 1 of March Madness
If you're wondering why this lands at the top of our list, my guess is that you weren't paying attention to what transpired on the basketball court last Thursday and Friday. The first round of this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament was downright pulsating and the best place to catch all of the action wasn't at the actual game sites, but in Las Vegas.

March Madness is a great time of year for the sports bettor, and it actually begins well before the NCAA tournament taps off. Thanks to the plethora of conference tournaments, the madness really begins at the beginning of March and goes straight through the Final Four in April. But the best time to be planted in a Vegas sportsbook is the first two days of the Big Dance when 32 games are played in a dizzying fashion. Each year Cinderella teams are introduced, stars are born and buzzer-beaters are the norm. It's madness at its best and Las Vegas knows how to host it better than any place else on the planet.

If you're a true sports bettor, put this on the very top of your "bucket list."

Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

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