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Bets and brackets: Sandy's popular place to take in March Madness

Mar. 21—CANNONSBURG — Some college hoops fans were chomping at the bit to make bets on a potential bracket buster on Thursday afternoon.

Just about 50 miles east of the campus, Morehead State was getting some love at Sandy's Gaming as the No. 14 seed took on 3-seed Illinois in the East region of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

The Fighting Illini entered the first-round game as a 10.5-point favorite against the Ohio Valley Conference champion.

Some fans treat the first Thursday of the "Big Dance" as a holiday every year. Their eyes never veer far from the TV throughout the 16-game day. Friday is the same.

This Tip-Off Thursday reached a new level, though, because 2024 marks the first March Madness during which sports betting is legal in Kentucky.

Nick Kaiser, Sandy's SportsBook and Entertainment Manager, said a few fans were hanging out in the Sportsbook space of the five-month-old facility in Cannonsburg prior to the area actually opening at 11 a.m. That's when teller hours begin. Prior to that — and after midnight, when the tellers close up shop — people (21 and older, of course) can place sports bets at kiosks. Sandy's is open from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

As Morehead State drained a couple a 3-pointers — by Jordan Lathon and Riley Minix — amid a run that propelled the Eagles to a 27-23 lead with 8:12 left in the first half, several fans cheered on the underdog. A couple dozen people — mostly men, some dressed in Kentucky gear in preparation for Thursday night's Wildcats game — enjoyed the cushioned, curved booths and stadium seating as their eyes danced from screen to screen. They had watched Michigan State knock off Mississippi State to start out the day's full slate. Some of them were settled in behind buckets of beer for a day chock full of highlight moments and exciting finishes.

"We can fit like 500 people here in the Sportsbook," Kaiser said. "It'll be packed later (at 7 p.m. for Oakland-Kentucky)."

Morehead State ultimately lost, 85-69.

Kaiser said the main wall features 54 different screens — many of them merged to enlarge displays of games.

One portion of the Sportsbook is devoted to horse bettors.

"We try to keep horses over here through simulcast," Kaiser said, motioning to the far right side.

Kaiser may be biased, but he couldn't think of a better place to watch a ball game.

"There's nowhere else really in the state of Kentucky, easily in the Tri-State, that has this many screens and this many different places to bet, sit, eat, get drinks, and you can come right out here (to the casino), easy access. I've been to many places, and this is just built different," Kaiser said.

Kaiser said the Sportsbook saw a "definite increase" in bets since the SEC Tournament started last week.

Kaiser has been with Sandy's from the get-go.

"From the ground up, it's been a wild ride," he said. "We're cruising now."