Mohegan turns pro; Is Vegas next?

Jan 27, 2003 11:19 PM

By MARK MAYER

Nobody is talking about Las Vegas as a possible NBA franchise, but the door may have opened ever so slightly with the WNBA¡¦s move to the Mohegan Sun.

The Connecticut-based hotel/casino will be the home base for the former Orlando Miracle this summer. Casino officials confirmed the move last week in a news conference, marking the first time a pro sports franchise has been based in a gambling locale.

The Mohegan Sun Arena will be the primary site for the Miracle, which finished 16-16 last year and struggled financially in Orlando. The 14-team WNBA, operated by the NBA, will be entering its seventh year.

Sports betting is illegal in the state of Connecticut, however the appearance of a major sports league on Indian land in a facility built specifically to earn money through gambling raises the issue of whether the NBA would consider Las Vegas as a viable franchise site down the road.

"I would definitely like to see the NBA and major league baseball. That¡¦s my dream," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said in the GamingToday Q&A interview last year. "I miss identifying with a team of a national stature."

Goodman was not available for comment on the WNBA shift to Mohegan Sun, but said in the earlier GT interview that he could see Las Vegas having a pro team by the end of the decade.

"Other states now have Vegas-style gaming," the Mayor stated. "We have to look for new venues and I think the gamblers will buy into the fact that a major league team will attract people that would not come as quickly, but would to see the team. I don¡¦t think Las Vegas is any different than Boise in that there¡¦s a yearning to have an identity."

Clearly, the Mohegan Sun now has another strong marketing tool with their new women¡¦s pro basketball team in a basketball crazy state that has seen the national champion University of Connecticut Lady Huskies outdraw the men¡¦s team on a yearly basis. However, at least one NBA co-owner sees no connection between Mohegan and Las Vegas.

"Maybe somebody can argue that if a pro sports team is at the Sun, they could have it here," said George Maloof, CEO of the Palms Resort and Casino and co-owner with brothers Joe and Gavin of the highly-successful NBA Sacramento Kings.

"I really don¡¦t know if what¡¦s going on in Connecticut would open up something here," Maloof said. "The NBA¡¦s hangup is sports betting. In my opinion, the move wouldn¡¦t affect Vegas in the long run."

Two other financially troubled teams in the WNBA, the Portland Fire and Miami Sol, are reportedly seeking relocation.