Las Vegas Gets NHL Franchise

The NHL’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet in Las Vegas on June 22 and will announce the city will become the home of a league franchise starting as soon as the 2017-18 season, the Associated Press announced. This will be the first major sports league to enter the Las Vegas market. The Las Vegas Wranglers (l.) played in the ECHL, a hockey minor league until four years ago. The move, says the American Gaming Association, heralds a change in the way professional sports leagues view Las Vegas and legal sports betting.

If team organizers can pay a 0 million fee, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will become home to an NHL franchise, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Citing a “person with direct knowledge” of a pending June 22 NHL Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas, the AP says the league will okay the expansion, but it won’t release details prior to its governors meeting.

Las Vegas gives the league a 31st team, and it might add another in Quebec City, which wants an NHL franchise and might get one via league expansion or an existing franchise moving its team to the French-Canadian city.

The league has said it might expand for the 2017-18 season, which means that likely will be the inaugural season for the Las Vegas franchise.

Entrepreneur Bill Foley has lobbied hard to land an NHL franchise in Las Vegas and earlier said he secured deposits from 13,200 potential season ticket holders. T-Mobile Arena is capable of seating 17,500 for a hockey game.

The NHL earlier this year enacted special rules for a potential expansion draft, from which Las Vegas and possibly Quebec City would obtain many of its players.

The league’s 30 current franchises can protect players in one of two ways. They can protect a goaltender, three defenders, and seven forwards from the expansion draft. They also can opt to protect a goalie and eight skaters, so long as four of them are defensemen.

No team can lose more than one player in an expansion draft, and players with only one or two years in the league are exempt, as are players with no-trade contracts.

Florida Panthers President Dale Tallon said the expansion draft should enable the likely Las Vegas franchise to become competitive in a short time, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

“It’s been a long time since we expanded and the way the game is played now and the way it’s coached, there’s a lot of great athletes out there,” Tallon said. “With the pool of players they’ll have to choose from, Las Vegas has the chance to have solid footing coming out of the gate.”

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak was the first person to place a deposit for NHL season tickets in Las Vegas and told ESPN he’s excited about the likely franchise award.

“Las Vegas has been waiting for this for decades,” he Sisolak said. “We’re a major-league city. We deserve major-league sports.”

With almost 2.2 million people living in the greater Las Vegas Area, it’s the nation’s largest metropolitan area without a major professional sports franchise.

It currently hosts a minor league baseball team, has been the home of several semi-professional and minor league hockey teams, and routinely hosts NBA and MLB exhibition games.

NASCAR and other professional racing leagues also compete at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the state’s sportsbooks take action on NASCAR events.

Whether or not the state’s sportsbooks will take action on NHL contests held in the city or involving the future franchise remains to be seen.

Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett told the Las Vegas Sun he hasn’t talked to anyone at the NHL about restricting or banning sports betting on NHL contests and doesn’t anticipate that happening.

“It seems to me that a lot of the sports leagues are seeing that professional sports can thrive without any issues in a well-regulated betting environment,” Burnett said.

The Gaming Control Board allows sanctioning leagues to ask for suspension of betting activity on sports contests within 30 days of a scheduled event. That gives the NHL plenty of time to object to betting action on any NHL games before Las Vegas begins league play.

When a sanctioning body asks it to suspend betting action on a contest, the Gaming Control Board reviews the request before making a decision.

Burnett told the Sun the Gaming Control Board is open to receiving any requests from professional teams engaged in any sport and would discuss any such requests with the people who make them.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) issued a statement saying the likely Las Vegas franchise heralds a major shift in the way professional sports leagues view Las Vegas and the gaming industry.

“The NHL’s decision is the latest signal that professional sports leagues are increasingly comfortable with legal, regulated sports betting,” AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said Tuesday in a statement.

“The placement of the first major professional sports franchise in Las Vegas reflects a rapidly evolving view of gaming as an important, mainstream segment of the broader economy that supports 1.7 million jobs and serves as a community partner in 40 states,” he added.

Freeman said legal betting on sports is not a threat to the integrity of sporting events—illegal operations are the concern.

“Nothing threatens the integrity of sports more than the illegal sports-betting marketplace, where Americans spent at least $150 billion over the last year through bookies and illegal, and often offshore, websites,” Freeman said.

With the likely NHL franchise coming to Las Vegas and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders considering a similar move, Freeman said it’s time for the federal government to lift its prohibition on legal sports betting operations in other states.

He said the proliferation of sports betting and rise of daily fantasy sports has shown the heads of the nation’s four major professional sports league that fans are looking for greater engagement with their favorite sports, teams, and players via daily fantasy sports and legal sports betting.

Writing on the Seeking Alpha website, former casino executive Howard Jay Klein didn’t think the team would represent a huge business opportunity for Las Vegas.

“The NHL is the weakest of the four major professional sports leagues,” Klein points out. “Its been struggling for decades, hemmed in by a demo that has not grown beyond its traditional core. Low TV ratings persist. What limits its appeal is that too many teams are located in markets where the sport isn’t a strong part of the local sports ethos as it is with the NFL, MLB and the NBA.”

He does concede, however, that MGM Resorts will be the primary benefactor.

“Because of the proximity of its two properties to the arena, its part ownership of the venue, its total room inventory on the strip and its strategic thrust into non-gaming amenities, we see the NHL arrival as a significant plus to MGM Resorts,” Klein writes. “It will make a noticeable contribution to its already diverse revenue streams associated with music and sports events.”