Rumors of an NHL team calling Las Vegas home have been floating around ever since the plans for an arena behind New York New York on the Strip were unveiled. As time passed, the reports picked up steam and it now seems a Las Vegas NHL team is a real possibility.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly visited Las Vegas recently on unrelated business. He checked out the MGM arena construction project and plans during his stay. He also took the time to talk to locals employed in the hospitality industry about their feelings on an NHL team in Las Vegas.
One quote attributed to Daly in the story covering his visit involved the possibility of restricting betting on any games involving a Las Vegas team:
“You don’t want guys in the stands with bet tickets in their hands and the only reason they’re watching the game is so they can cash in on a bet afterwards. That’s not an environment you want to foster or create as a professional sports league.”
The report states that “UNLV was successful getting that done with its college basketball team years ago”, referring to the fact that Nevada collegiate athletics were taken off the board at the state’s sports books in 1987. The article omits the fact that this law was repealed in 2001.
You can thank Sen. John McCain for that . The result was the exact opposite of what he was hoping to accomplish.
Betting on Games Becomes a Draw
There is nowhere in the U.S. where a bettor can place a legal wager on a professional sporting event and watch it in person. Las Vegas is a unique market that offers that opportunity. It is understandable that the point of bringing a team to Las Vegas is to convince locals to buy season tickets and back the team. That will happen.
The fear may lie in bettors crashing the party by cheering against the home team. This threat is not unique to Las Vegas. It is common in all southern cities that have a large number of transplants.
Banning betting is not going to stop the large fan bases of teams from attending games. Most Las Vegans are not native to the city so having a disproportionate number of fans cheering for the visitors will already happen, regardless of legalized betting. It is also naive to think that people will not place those wagers illegally, an activity that occurs in other parts of the country.
Las Vegas residents are used to having large fan bases cheering against them. The contingent of fans viewing a game at taverns and sports books is nearly in direct proportion to the percentage of tickets written on a side. This is something Las Vegas residents face in everyday life.
Allowing fans to bet on hockey may also help draw more locals to the arena, which may in turn create a bigger fan base. It may also help attract tourists to hockey that may have never been exposed to it.
Precedent Already Set in Canada
While the NHL opposes New Jersey sports betting, and may look to restrict it in Las Vegas, the activity has been endorsed by league members in Canada. Teams have partnered with provincial lotteries in the past, while others have demanded royalties based on the betting on its events. None have tried to stop betting on NHL games.
Fantasy Sports Creates Similar Scenario
There is a debate about whether daily fantasy sports is substantially different than betting on individual events. Both require a combination of skill and luck that involve the exchange of cash.
The NHL has no issue with daily fantasy sports. The leagues signed a multi-year deal with DraftKings. The league seems concerned with spectators creating a hostile environment for the home team, yet daily fantasy sports players are welcome into a similar scenario where they may be backing opposing players.
Las Vegas is a Unique Market
There is one issue that is clear to all involved. There is no other market like Las Vegas. The town is transient with few lifetime residents. It will be hard to create local support. However, the ability of Las Vegas to market itself is indisputable and that will carry over to professional sports. Combining the attributes of the Las Vegas experience with a professional sports team is a formula for success. The NHL has the opportunity to exploit it. All it needs to bring is a competitive team.
The MGM Resorts’ arena currently under construction is a short walk from the Las Vegas Strip. The policies within it should not take away from what tourists and locals have come to expect from this great city. They are visiting to experience activities that are unique to Las Vegas. The NHL needs to give them what they want.