Betting on the future at Global Gaming Expo with Bettman

Oct 16, 2019 3:02 AM

Gary Bettman’s in town today and it’s always nice to have the NHL commissioner in Las Vegas.

After all, without Bettman (and Bill Foley) there’s no Vegas Golden Knights and no pro sports boom in our city. Which is why I think he should be immune to the standard booing he receives whenever he is at an event here. He should receive papal dispensation at T-Mobile Arena.

He also should be praised for coming around on gambling as it pertains to the NHL.

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I remember when then-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman traveled to New York to meet with Bettman about putting a franchise in his city. Oscar made a compelling argument, as is his wont being a celebrated criminal trial attorney. But Bettman is also a lawyer by trade and he argued that he had grave concerns about allowing the NHL to have a team in a city where betting on sports in general and his league in particular was something he wasn’t comfortable with.

This was back in 1999. Goodman also met with then-NBA commissioner David Stern shortly after his confab with Bettman. Same result. Stern was not comfortable with putting a team in Vegas because of the gambling element.

But Oscar’s not used to taking no for an answer. He’s persistent if nothing else. Eventually, he wore Stern down and the NBA agreed to bring its 2007 All-Star Game to Las Vegas.

As for the NHL, Bettman, who’s no dummy, realized that betting on hockey was going to exist whether or not he condoned or condemned it. And when the MGM teamed up with Anschutz Entertainment Group to build what would be T-Mobile Arena, it paved the way for Foley to apply for a team, pay a then-record $500 million expansion fee, and eventually be granted a franchise.

And whether you like them or not, the Golden Knights have been a huge success story, both on and off the ice.

Since the Knights’ debut three years ago, the NHL has embraced gambling to a certain extent. It has allowed teams to make marketing deals with sportsbook operators. Recently, Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals, announced he was going to put a book in his team’s arena.

That notion will no doubt be a topic of discussion when Bettman and William Hill’s Joe Asher participate in a panel discussion at the Global Gaming Expo this morning at the Sands Convention Center. What was once a deal-breaker for bringing an NHL team to Las Vegas has turned 180 degrees to where people will be able to go into an NHL arena and make an over-the-counter bet.

Of course, people who have phone betting accounts in states where sports betting is legal and have NHL franchises in those states, have been betting inside arenas for the last year, longer here in Nevada.

And while Bettman will focus on gambling in his G2E seminar, he might also want to talk about some of the other things the NHL is involved with.

I’d like to hear what the progress is on a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. Last month, both sides elected not to opt out of the current CBA, which expires after the 2021-22 season. What are both sides looking for in the new agreement?

I’d like to get his thoughts on how the league can improve its officiating. Last year’s playoffs produced a spate of bad calls and bad decisions. I don’t need to remind Foley and his VGK fan base of that. They continue to tweak the replay rules and challenges for coaches. Is that ultimately the right answer? Or would it not be better for the four officials on the ice to get the call right the first time?

I know hockey’s a fast game and very difficult to officiate. But the guys in stripes need to be better.

It also needs to be a safer game. Bettman has been criticized for his stance on concussions and refusing to admit the science that indicates a correlation between head injuries sustained in games and long- and short-term CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). The NHL needs to be harsher when it comes to meting out discipline for head shots, especially for repeat offenders.

No one questions a clean bodycheck. It’s part of what makes the NHL so appealing. But when guys start head-hunting, the league needs to step in and put an immediate stop to it.

The league also has a TV deal to negotiate. With more people cutting the cord with their cable companies and watching on their phone or tablet, is the NHL going to get less money from NBC or whatever network it negotiates with on a new deal for 2021-22? Would a return relationship with ESPN make sense?

Financially, the league has never been better. And with Seattle preparing to join the NHL in two years, the game continues its upward growth pattern. The level of play has never been higher. The marketing of individual players continues to improve. The league is embracing technology and analytics to attract new fans.

Bettman, a 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, has had a lot to do with it. He has endured lots of criticism in his 26-year tenure as commissioner, much of deserved. But he has also seen his sport grow during his stewardship. The NHL may still be the fourth of the four major sports in this country, but it’s on solid footing.

Hopefully, they won’t boo Bettman today at the Sands. But it wouldn’t shock me if he was. For him, it comes with the territory. 

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