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Let Madness begin as Las Vegas prepares to host 2023 regional

Updated March 24, 2022 - 12:53 pm

The madness in March is set to increase next year when Las Vegas finally is the site of NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament games.

Las Vegas for the first time will host a portion of the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament, with the West Regional set to be held at T-Mobile Arena, March 23-25 next year. The regional features the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

With Las Vegas already college basketball central in March with five conferences hosting their men’s and women’s championships in the valley, the city is well-prepared for its first official foray into March Madness.

“Hosting the regionals is a big deal and it really puts the spotlight on Las Vegas,” said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We’re obviously already a huge college basketball town with all the championships the week before March Madness. This really adds another whole weekend to that string. It also gives us an opportunity to deepen our relationship with the NCAA with an event that really matters to them and to us.”

Dan Quinn, general manager of T-Mobile Arena, said when the now almost six-year-old arena was being constructed landing major events was the goal.

“We built T-Mobile Arena, a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue, with the intent to host marquee events such as the NHL All-Star game, UFC, championship boxing events, concerts and awards shows, as well as NCAA Championship events including an NCAA Men’s Basketball Regional (2023) and the Frozen Four (2026),” Quinn said in a statement. “Events such as these are both large economic drivers for the destination as well as opportunities for us to create memorable, lifetime experiences for sports fans nationwide.”

Key court ruling

Landing the regional on the Las Vegas Strip was years in the making and was made possible by a 2018 Supreme Court ruling regarding sports betting in the United States. The ruling struck down a 1992 law that effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states, except Nevada. Since then, dozens of states now allow people to place bets on sporting events either in person, online, or both.

“It really wasn’t going to be something that was going to be considered until that law changed,” Hill said. “It happened pretty quickly once that happened, but it was a couple-year effort involved there.”

With a bevy of sportsbook parties and other events centered around the NCAA Tournament, Las Vegas was already regarded as March Madness central. Hosting games is just the next step in the city’s evolution.

Though Las Vegas is usually packed during all the rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Hill is confident the city has the bandwidth to host the additional fans holding games here will bring.

“When we work on these events with whoever we’re putting these events on with, we set aside rooms through a room block to make sure that those who need to be here have a place to be while they’re here,” Hill said. “Virtually every weekend we’re around the 90-95 percent occupancy range during normal times. There won’t be a conflict with that.”

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft said landing the West Regional is just the next step in the continued development of the Las Vegas sports scene.

“We’ve proven there’s no better place to experience sports and now everybody recognizes that,” Naft said. “We’ve seen our ability to coordinate and follow through on multiple events at the same time, I think that’s an enormous appeal. I also think what it means to us as a destination is that it adds on a day and extending the weekend. Allowing people to go to work and pick up extra shifts, instead of coming for the traditional two- or three-day weekend, they’re now making it a four- or five-day weekend and it’s because of these major events.”

Sports capital?

The LVCVA has been running an ad campaign since last year dubbing Las Vegas the “Greatest Arena on Earth,” and the addition of the NCAA Tournament is further proof of that, Hill said.

“The NCAA regional basketball tournament is really a marquee event,” Hill said. “Being able to add that to the list of marquee events that we’ve had in Las Vegas is certainly helpful in casting us as the sports capital of the world. … The regional tournament will be the pinnacle of what we’ve done with college basketball here in Las Vegas. It’s a new height that we’ve climbed and it certainly matters.”

Although next year’s events are being held at T-Mobile Arena, which can fit around 20,000 fans for basketball, the larger Allegiant Stadium sits just a short drive over Interstate 15.

That is where the ultimate college basketball games could be played sometime in the near future.

“Since the sporting event committee that we put together three or four years ago, since the stadium was coming online, we were thinking about how does the city manage the effort to attract the biggest events in the world,” Hill said. “The Final Four was a prominent conversation. It’s an obvious goal for Las Vegas and certainly something we hope to be able to achieve at some point.”

Las Vegas will host the Super Bowl in 2024 and recently hosted the NFL Pro Bowl, NHL All-Star and WNBA (2019, 2021) All-Star games. Additionally, the upcoming NFL draft will be held in Las Vegas next month. All that shows Las Vegas is in a sporting event renaissance, Naft said.

“I think that ’90s were for families, the early 2000s were the club days and we are currently evolving into the sports capital of the world,” he said.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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