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Gaming Guru

 

'Madness of March' captures hoops betting colorfully

19 February 2009

In 1991, Chad Millman penned a book about basketball betting titled The Odds. It is now out of print and sadly so because it's painfully rare today that we see any book devoted to basketball betting, much less this phenomenon of March Madness -- the NCAA tournament. This year we're in luck, though. Alan Jay Zaremba, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, has captured the excitement, the color, the flavor and craziness of college basketball betting in Las Vegas in his new book, The Madness of March (228 pages, paperbound, $19.95).

Subtitled "Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas," this book covers six straight days of betting with the wise guys, amateurs and madmen who calculate, guess, second-guess and go wild from March 13-18, 2007. It deftly shows what it is like to be among the crazies who fly to Las Vegas like swallows returning to Capistrano annually for their migration and ritual of betting, sweating, getting plastered, second-guessing, meeting other fanatics while wives and girlfriends, for the most part, wait elsewhere for their return from madness and hopefully with some money.

Zaremba listened, observed, took notes (no tape recorder was used), visited many sportsbooks and even counted TV sets, chairs, observed the zanies, the hopefuls, listened to their logic and stood on line with the best and worst of them. Basketball betting has its own colorful language to decipher -- seeds, brackets, lumber, vigorish, push, the under, the money line, teaser, proposition bets -- and Zaremba covers it all. He talks about specific clientele who gather at each hotel and discusses how many of these visitors believe they have "insider" information or a "hunch" about the impact of a defense against certain offenses or how they'll wager because of a key injury. Some bet early, some bet late, depending on whether they are favorite or underdog bettors. (On occasion, emotion can be strong: it made one character toss a shoe through a sportsbook television set because of a "bad beat," then peel off $1,000 to cover the damage.)

Zaremba met all these guys -- the "system players," those who have photographic memories beyond belief, and those with notes and notebooks resembling War and Peace, the "masters of the f-word" and wearers of bizarre T-shirts reflecting strange ideologies.

The book itself is like a travelogue of places, people, concepts and conspiracy theories, and if Hunter Thompson were alive today he'd embrace the author, who captures the moments and rides the roller coaster of emotions with the bettors.

Zaremba sat through 48 basketball games from one end of the Strip in Las Vegas to the other. He must love the game. Many do. I love the book -- it's timely, colorful and informative. Treat yourself. Enjoy.
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com