Frankly, sports team not on wish list

September 18, 2007 4:20 AM
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Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, recently said that getting a sports franchise isn’t necessarily supported by the major Las Vegas casinos.

And, he added, the recent betting scandal involving an NBA referee shouldn’t affect the stature of Nevada’s legal sports book industry.

Fahrenkopf made his comments in a candid interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper while attending a high school reunion in Reno.

Fahrenkopf’s observed that Las Vegas’ quest for an NBA franchise is not universally supported by all Nevada’s major gaming captains. Yet the recent scandal involving an NBA referee making illegal wagers on NBA games should not hurt Las Vegas’ chances of landing a team.

He said that some Las Vegas gaming leaders were turned off to the possibility of bringing an NBA team to Las Vegas after the city played host to the NBA All-Star weekend in February.

Three people — including a security guard — were shot at the Minxx strip club that weekend by a member of entourage of pro football star Adam "Pacman" Jones.

Terry Lanni, the MGM Mirage’s chief executive, said he didn’t want the NBA All-Star Game to return to Las Vegas, fearing that rowdy crowds would hurt casino earnings.

"The gang-bangers and others who came for purposes other than attending the game, they weren’t very good for Las Vegas," Lanni told the Associated Press.

Fahrenkopf called the push to get an NBA franchise in Las Vegas, "very controversial."

"Oscar (Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman) has been very aggressive," Fahrenkopf said about the push to bring an NBA team to Las Vegas. "He’s led the campaign. Those who operate the sports books would probably have to take the NBA off (the betting board) so where it will go, I don’t know."

More than $672 million — mostly in Las Vegas — was bet on basketball in Nevada casinos in the last year fiscal year, according to the Gaming Control Board. The board, however, does not separate pro from college basketball betting in its statistics.

Nevada books earned $34 million on pro and college basketball betting in the last fiscal year, according to state statistics.

Fahrenkopf was unsure if an NBA franchise in Las Vegas would be successful.

"There are reasons why race tracks have never made it in Las Vegas because people don’t go to Las Vegas to go to the race track," he said. "They go to Las Vegas for the amenities that are there. But that is a decision for the Las Vegas Convention Authority and those folks have to make."

Regarding betting scandals, Fahrenkopf said Nevada sports books could be "useful" in detecting illegal activity.

Moreover, Nevada’s bookmakers are perhaps the best ally for professional sports’ leagues trying to guard against gaming fixing and illegal betting, Fahrenkopf said.

"If someone is shaving points, it is usually the Las Vegas sports books who are the victims of that crime," Fahrenkopf said. "My argument has always been that we are the canaries in the mine shaft when it comes to illegal gaming activity on athletics. Our experts in our sports books can look at the odds and smell if something is wrong. We are the best friends the NCAA, NBA or any other sports authority may have because we are the ones that are going to smell the problem."

Pro sports leagues need legal Nevada bookmakers to alert them to potential fixes, he added.

"The FBI estimates that up to $360 billion is bet on sports every year in this country," Fahrenkopf said. "Of that, only about one percent is bet legally here in Nevada. The head of the NCAA, when we were going through hearings on the (Capitol) Hill, testified that there is an illegal bookie on every college campus in America. If you did away with us, you are doing away with the methodology to catch it."