#360USA: Playing in Las Vegas could prove a big gamble

Steve Brenner 07:00 28/06/2016
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Bill Foley (l) with Gary Bettman.

A brave new dawn is breaking on the United States sporting landscape.

The decision by the NHL to create a 31st franchise in Las Vegas has long been mooted and was finally ratified last week.

And with it comes the startling reality of sports betting finally welcomed by all.

It cost a record $500 million (Dh1.8m) yet with billions spent by fun seekers in Sin City every year, the money shelled out by millionaire businessman Bill Foley could turn out to be a snip.

The boxing mecca is a haven for fans who can sit back, have a wager and not be worried about a tap on the shoulder from authorities.

Only in America can guns be available almost everywhere with sadly horrific consequences yet betting be outlawed in half the country.

And so while commissioner Gary Bettman welcomed Foley’s ice hockey dream with open arms, fresh concerns about the viability and suitability of Las Vegas as a proud owner of a sporting franchise were raised once again.

Ever since baseball was tainted with gambling corruption during the infamous Chicago White Sox World Series fixing scandal in 1919, the US has endured a difficult relationship with sports betting.

There have been worries in the past of placing pro sports in the Nevada desert amid fears of match fixing and wrongdoing.

“There has been hesitation over the years of setting up in Vegas but fears over gambling isn’t as big an issue any more,” a highly placed source told Sport360.

It’s remarkable to think that a country which is so sport obsessed continues to have such regulations in place in so many cities.

“The game doesn’t lend itself to betting like other sports,” said Bettman who maintains the NHL’s integrity will not be compromised because there is less betting on the sport.

That’s debatable – people bet and try to make money on anything, especially in fervent Asian markets. Certainly, a fair few dollars will be wagered on what happens on the ice.

This is Las Vegas we are talking about. Putting a few dollars on the line is akin to waking up and opening your eyes.

NBA chief Adam Silver has long been a proponent of ensuring regulated betting is introduced in US sporting culture.

There have long been calls for Vegas to have a pro-basketball team and although that dream is some way off yet, you can’t help but think that forward-thinking Silver fancies the idea.

“If it’s going to go on, let’s make it transparent, regulate it,” he said.

While gambling fears subside and prospect of a nationwide acceptance moves closer, consternation grows over a professional sports team residing in Sin City – ice hockey will start from 2017 – and how players will pass the time.

The strip is dripping with temptation. Anything, literally anything, is possible in Vegas.

The chances of young, rich and single stars finding themselves in plenty of hot water are high. Married ones need to be careful too.

Vegas is like no other US city. It’s like no other place in the world. Of course, you can be sensible and enjoy yourself without courting trouble.

But look at how the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated their NBA title win last week. A quick trip from Oakland, dinner on LeBron and in bed before midnight?

Hardly. It was carnage. Trouble lurks round every corner.

And that’s what makes the idea of the NFL joining the party by helping the Oakland Raiders potentially move to the city all the more tasty.

Considering the dodgy roll call of misbehaving NFL players, who knows what could happen?

Players will be educated and reminded of their responsibilities yet will that stop them?

However, if and when Roger Goodell looks to make that particular call – insiders say the chances of it being sorted in time for the new season are ‘highly unlikely ‘ – news of a drunk quarterback dancing in a nightclub until 5am won’t be bothering him.

Instead, fears over how a team can remain competitive will remain. Tickets need to be sold, fans need to get hooked from the off in a TV market which is ranked 40th in the country.

Initial ice-hockey sales, however, have certainly been impressive.

There are now 15,000 solid fan commitments. Naturally, hopes are high. “Las Vegas is embracing this,” said Foley. “It will give the city a different identity.”

The rest of the country could be altered too.

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