By the end of the month, Las Vegas will almost certainly have an NHL team. Hockey! In Vegas!
The city may also get an NFL team, with the Raiders pledging $500 million toward a stadium there and earning the tacit approval of Roger Goodell. There has also been discussion of an NBA team in the future, and the city nearly became the home of the then-Florida Marlins in 2004, a decade after it was in consideration for the uprooted Montreal Expos. In April of this year, the $375 million T-Mobile Arena — designed to attract an NHL or NBA franchise (or, better yet, both) — opened just off the Strip.
So, why is everybody suddenly trying to make Las Vegas into a sports town?
First, the city has grown — a lot. The population of Las Vegas has more than doubled since 1992. It is now home to more than 600,000 people, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in the country without a professional sports team, after Riverside, California.
There’s also a lot of money to go around. T-Mobile Arena was built entirely with private funds. Businessman Bill Foley, who describes himself as “the man that wants to bring hockey to the desert,” was so enthusiastic that he began selling season tickets online for the not-yet-extant team, collecting 14,000 deposits of at least $150 each. The NHL seems to have bet on this enthusiasm, ratcheting up its expansion fee for Foley and his partners to a mind-boggling $500 million. When the Atlanta Thrashers went north to Winnipeg in 2011, the NHL reportedly demanded a comparatively modest $60 million relocation fee. (A Raiders relocation would prove trickier: even after owner Mark Davis’s stadium pledge and a promise of $150 million in assistance by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, construction would require increasing tourism taxes to secure public financing.)
But the biggest change may be pro sports leagues softening their stance toward gambling. With the creep of daily fantasy sports has come the recognition that some form of gambling might have a place in American sports (or at least not send them crumbling into oblivion). In April, Goodell said that “[all] of us have evolved a little bit on gambling,” while NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said it’s “good for business” and “creates more engagement.” This marks a dramatic change from past years: as recently as 2007, when the NBA held the All-Star Game in Las Vegas, betting on the event was banned as a precondition of league officials.
So will professional sports come to Las Vegas at last? Bet on it.
“It’s a lot of money,” Foley said of bringing an NHL franchise to town, “but it’s going to be fun.”