Vegas setup to finally get major sports franchise

May 24, 2016 3:09 AM

Las Vegas remains the largest U.S. metropolitan area without a major league sports team but that lonely state of being appears headed for change.

It’s being reshaped by the pressure of creative thinking calculated to exploit Nevada’s uniqueness as a travel destination offering everything from sports betting to an unsurpassed assortment of facilities with more on the way.

The scent of change is in the air as pro sports leagues and the big thinkers behind major events of all kinds peer toward Las Vegas with new respect. It all translates as opportunity.

The possibility Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis will actually pull the trigger on a plan to move his team to Las Vegas into a still-to-be-built domed stadium continues getting lots of attention.

All the latest easy to read signs tell us the NHL continues looking at Las Vegas as a future franchise site for a team that would be headquartered in MGM’s new T-Mobile Arena.

What’s next if the NFL and NHL possibilities work out?

The NBA?

Maybe even major league baseball?

Las Vegas’ prospects for landing one or more major league sports franchises will continue to move the chains toward change. So will the continuing evolution of daily fantasy sports wagering, the building fascination with eSports and prospects for the widespread legalization of sports betting generally.

What all of these possibilities have in common is the thoughtful but spirited conversation that leads to action.

But first things first.

Nothing is more important in Las Vegas than maintaining the push toward the first class domed stadium. Kind of like what happened with the T-Mobile Arena. MGM and its private equity partner AEG moved with record speed to get it done.

If only it weren’t so difficult to get action from those graveyards for good ideas otherwise known as Congress and the Legislature. Few people expect anything from Congress during a presidential election year but ironically, this could be an election cycle that does produce action.

The thought came to mind as I read a recent political column that mentioned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a likely pick to be attorney general in a Trump administration. It was Christie who pushed the full-speed-ahead button several years ago on the state’s so-far unsuccessful effort to open sports betting in Atlantic City casinos.

Christie’s effort has fueled conversation in both Washington and a variety of state capitals about the logic of what the American Gaming Association calls a “rational approach” to legislation that opens doors to expanded sports-related gambling beyond Nevada borders.

A lot has to happen before this thinking qualifies as anything more than an afternoon fantasy but it is apparent the existence of widespread legal sports betting is no longer the NFL’s worse nightmare come to life.

Far from it.

New Jersey’s appeal of a federal court ruling that sports betting in Atlantic City would violate a ban imposed by 1992 congressional action awaits a decision.

But in the meantime…

NFL owners are increasingly speaking out in favor of moving a team to Las Vegas, and one of the league’s most influential owners has just lent his voice to the many saying it could work. Patriots owner Robert Kraft told USA Today he thinks Las Vegas would make sense for the Raiders if they can’t get a deal done for a new stadium in Oakland.

“I think it would be good for the NFL,” Kraft said. “I know Mark Davis has tried so hard in Oakland. If they won’t do it… I want to support him.”

Kraft said the NFL’s historical objection to having any ties to the gambling industry is no longer relevant in a world where online gambling is everywhere.

“I came into the league in ’94,” said Kraft. “Back then, any exploration of that market was dismissed out of hand. I’m looking where we are today and thinking of the last 10 to 15 years, and the emergence of new media, with Google and Facebook and the like. We’re just living in a different world, technology wise. The risks in Vegas are no longer exclusive to Vegas.”

Last week, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he would back a Raiders move to Southern Nevada if a new stadium is built.

Let’s see what happens when NFL owners get together in North Carolina this week.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected]