The National Hockey League is coming to Las Vegas with the announcement that it will expand for the first time in 16 years and do so with a splash in Sin City. It is an important moment not only for the NHL, but also all professional sports leagues, as they now have to take a hard look at their own internal policies and determine whether they should follow the lead of the NHL or continue to push an agenda that keeps their events away from legalized sports gambling.
Expanding to Las Vegas is a smart business move for the NHL.
Perhaps the best part of the now approved proposal is that the NHL has received a commitment of $500 million from billionaire businessman Bill Foley for the Las Vegas expansion team. Furthermore, more than 14,000 people have purportedly paid deposits for season tickets.
Las Vegas has long been chastised as a possible market for a professional sports team due to its huge tourism industry, which necessitates that many inhabitants at any given time are transient. They are in Las Vegas to test their luck at slot machines, attend nightclubs and bet on sports. However, the number of deposits for season tickets is a promising sign, as is Foley's strong financial commitment to the expansion team.
Also benefiting from the expansion team should be MGM Resorts International, which built the T-Mobile Arena (where the new team will play), and recently acquired the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The NHL was wise to ignore the stigma associated with sports betting.
Professional sports leagues have long argued that a team located in close proximity to gambling would threaten the integrity of games played. The American Gaming Association (AGA) has noted that more than 80% of National Football League teams currently play their home games within a 1-hour drive of a casino. No one seems to be concerned about NFL games being fixed nor are they complaining about the fact that casinos are located near many stadiums or that anyone can access an online casino and wager on a match-up.
"The NHL's decision is the latest signal that professional sports leagues are increasingly comfortable with legal, regulated sports betting," said AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman. "Nothing threatens the integrity of sports more than the illegal sports betting marketplace where Americans spent at least $150 billion over the last year through bookies and illegal, and often offshore, websites."
Las Vegas is one of the few places where illegal gambling is rare; it is possible that the NHL recognized that as a positive attribute to bringing a team to Las Vegas. It would be wise for other leagues to follow the NHL's lead in their decision making in the future.
What could the NHL's move to Las Vegas mean for expansion of sports betting?
Currently, the only state in the United States that offers complete, legalized sports betting is Nevada. A federal law precludes all other states from providing the same type of betting on the outcomes of sports matches. The NHL's approval of a team in Las Vegas could be a cause for change in the future.
"By breaking the Las Vegas dam, the NHL is also pouring cold water on the argument that regulated sports betting harms the integrity of sports--and boosting efforts to legalize sports betting across the country," said Freeman. "The League's decision is just the latest signal that professional sports leagues are increasingly comfortable with legal, regulated sports betting and recognize the integrity benefits it brings."