“Hey, take this up to the bar for a free drink. I’m not going to use it.”
This was the seemingly viral phrase heard throughout The Book at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack during the final Sunday of the Elite 8 round as bettors lounged in leather seats watching Auburn knock off Kentucky to punch the program’s first-ever Final Four ticket. The venue wasn’t packed, but it was lively and energized – mostly with deep-pocketed Auburn fans praying for the over to hit.
The line had been set at 141.5 and there was nearly a standing ovation when the game went into overtime. Final score: Auburn 77, Kentucky 71, for a combined total of 148 points. Minutes after the final buzzer sounded, a slew of players rose from their seats to cash in.
“Auburn, baby, I knew it,” shouted one winner in a Phillies cap. “Next, I’m taking Duke on the moneyline. Their games are always tight.”
Then, a bearded veteran gambler in an Eagles wool cap walked over and handed me a voucher for a complimentary drink. The casino was offering one free drink to players who placed $50 worth of bets. It sounded like a great promotion for a “Sunday Funday,” but the masses were more into downing coffee than beer, despite $3 selected drafts and a $9 shot-and-beer combo special.
“I have to keep my wits about me,” the man told me. “Besides, I’m betting on hockey. Basketball is too corrupt, one of the easiest sports to fix. Ever notice how those lines move at the end of games? There is a lot of money won and lost in those final 30 seconds.”
Harrah’s had about 50 people milling around The Book, but there was never a wait to place bets. Even the single-file express lane at the ticket window – established for those high rollers wanting to spend $500 or more – remained empty. By the time Duke and Michigan State tipped off at 5:05 p.m. there were prime seats available at the main bar, right underneath the multi-paneled big screen TV.
“It has been very exciting to experience our first college basketball playoff in The Book,” said Christina Herrera, VP of Casino Operations. “The first weekend with the opening rounds was clearly more popular with strong business volumes and large crowds. We’re looking forward to a busy finish to the tournament next weekend.”
The bartender echoed those sentiments, adding that he expected a bigger crowd for the National Championship – which takes place tonight.