It's a mad, mad, mad, mad weekend: Our 10 favorite hotels for watching the NCAA Tournament in Vegas

The Las Vegas Hilton, home of the largest sports book in the world.
The Las Vegas Hilton, home of the largest sports book in the world.

Now that Valentine's Day is finally over, it's time we get back to the important things. Like basketball. College basketball, to be more specific. March Madness, to be even more specific. Yes, you -- and by "you," I mean everyone who considers, as I do, the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament the most wonderful four days of every year -- have exactly one month to book your (possibly annual) pilgrimage to Las Vegas to experience, first-hand, the only thing crazier than the brackets themselves: a Vegas sports book on the opening weekend of March Madness.

Those four days in mid-March now rival Super Bowl weekend as the busiest days of the year in Vegas; it's a safe bet (the only safe bet, to be sure) that it'll be nuts no matter where you watch the games. But just as all hotels are not created equal, so each casino -- each sports book, in particular -- offers its own advantages and drawbacks. Yet again, we are at your service.

Below are our ten favorite hotels for experiencing the madness/Madness. Keep in mind that rates can fluctuate literally minute to minute, and that some casinos are still deciding what special arrangements or packages, if any, to incorporate this year. The one thing you can count on: mad-crazy crowds. So plan accordingly: Either reserve a table (not always possible) or arrive early in the morning. Real early. Oh, and bet the under on West Coast teams playing Thursday morning games in the East Region -- the time zone change always throws off underclassmen.

THEhotel

  • Hotel Rating: 5 pearls (out of 5)
  • Price per night, 3/17 - 3/21 (incl. taxes & fees): $403 (via Expedia)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: Not much. THEhotel is mostly on this list because of the madness it enables after the games -- to wit, the pimped-out 725-square-foot suites (and that's the most basic room). You can pile your whole crew into a single room at THEhotel and then watch the games next door at the sister property, the Mandalay Bay Resort. And if ten hours next to Bruce-from-Kentucky becomes a little much, you can always retreat to the room and catch a game or two on one (or all) of three flat-screens in your suite, including one in the bathroom.

Wynn Las Vegas

  • Hotel Rating: 5 pearls
  • Price: $354 (via Orbitz or CheapTickets)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: High-roller heaven. This is where you'll find the whales. The main sports book area can feel cramped, but the VIP section is suitably spacious. Last year, the Wynn expanded for March Madness by converting one of the larger ballrooms into a sports book, but as of today, representatives could not confirm they would be doing the same thing again this year.

Caesars Palace

  • Rating: 4 pearls
  • Price: $314 (via ReserveTravel)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: 140 seats, each with its own 12-inch flat-screen; six 12-by-15-foot oversized screens; twelve 50-inch plasma screens; and a 20-by-50-foot LED board. This New York Times story from 2007 pretty much sums it up. Bucket list, baby.

The Bellagio

  • Rating: 5 pearls
  • Price: $224 (via Priceline)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: 5,600 square feet; 150 tables, each with its own TV; 32 sports-bar flat-screens; one hugemongous screen; and reportedly top-notch cocktail waitresses. Bonus: The sports book has its own eatery, Snacks, which serves up better fare than you're likely to find elsewhere.

Hard Rock

  • Rating: 4 pearls
  • Price: $219 (via Orbitz or CheapTickets)
  • Location: Off the Strip
  • The Madness: Comparatively less than at the places on the Strip, which is the point. If you don't feel like waking up before the crack of dawn to find a table -- and then rotating in and out with your friends all day to hold that table -- you should seriously consider a hotel off the Strip. The Hard Rock's sports book is a rock-solid (heh heh) option any time of year; during the NCAAs, they open a separate viewing theater in Festival Hall, near the pool.

The Mirage

  • Rating: 4 pearls
  • Price: $204 (via multiple sites)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: At 10,000 square feet, the Mirage's sports book is one of the largest in Vegas. Also, if you do happen to be saddled with a co-traveler or two who doesn't want to spend 12 hours a day a day yelling at television screens, the Mirage offers a wide array of features that appeal to all, ahem, genders: comfortable rooms, an enormous pool, a cheesy but undeniably impressive volcano, Cirque du Soleil's "Love," even a wildlife sanctuary.

New York, New York

  • Rating: 3.5 pearls
  • Price: $202 (via ReserveTravel)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: The ESPN Zone to end all ESPN Zones, complete with 165 TVs (including in the restrooms, "to ensure you never miss a single moment of action!" as it says on the website) and a special screening room with two 14-foot screens and a dozen more 36-inch monitors. And if you want to place some bets without resorting to exercise, not to worry: The sports book is right outside ESPN Zone's doors.

The Flamingo

  • Rating: 3.5 pearls
  • Price: $122 (via multiple sites)
  • Location: The Strip
  • The Madness: The Flamingo usually converts one of its ballrooms into a screening room, with several huge screens, each showing a different game. For $40, you can reserve a table for three days, thereby allowing you to skip the daily morning scramble for spots. That also buys you some drink tickets and a t-shirt (handy for those days when you don't have time to shower).

Las Vegas Hilton

  • Rating: 3.5 pearls
  • Price: $102 (via Orbitz and CheapTickets)
  • Location: Off the Strip
  • The Madness: The world's largest sports book. That means 300 seats, 28 gigantic TVs, and one ginormous 15-by-20-foot screen. Again, keep in mind the pros and cons of being off the Strip: essentially, less chaos, but... less chaos.

Golden Nugget

  • Rating: 4 pearls
  • Price: $69 (via Priceline)
  • Location: Downtown
  • The Madness: A giant screen, plus "more TVs per square foot than any book in the state" (according to their website, at least). And unlike some of the other places on this list, the Nugget hasn't jacked up rates for March Madness. If you don't mind being away from the Strip (a 10- to 15-minute, $10- to $15-cab ride), it's tough to beat 4 pearls for less than $100 a night.
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