The biggest obstacle Las Vegas has historically found in its way revolving landing a major professional franchise has been the plethora of sports books in town. The proximity to gambling, and by association its dark underbelly has always been troubling for the leagues. Yet the city has no problem with it, and sees no reason to change.
In a proposal to the NBA on Thursday, the city of Las Vegas made no offer to removing betting on NBA games from their books. Requested by Commissioner David Stern, the proposal emphasizes Nevada's gambling regulatory record and argues the system "should provide sufficient cause for the association to permit a franchise to exist comfortably in Las Vegas without concern of corruption or interference by unsavory individuals."
Many believed the city would offer to ban the betting, as had been done with local college games up until 2001. But maybe the city is right? What if there's no reason to ban such betting?
The stance that betting on a particular sport should be banned before a pro team moves there is really an antiquated one. Gambling has gone on through time immemorial. With the rise of the internet, it's possible to bet on just about anything. From local bookies to the online sites (World Sports Exchange, etc) to the books in Las Vegas, the possibility and the temptation is there. A player could easily bet on or fix a game if they wanted to. Whether or not there is a team in Vegas, and whether or not there's a ban on betting players and their entourages will always have recourse to do so.
Let's say there was a ban on betting on the NBA in Las Vegas, and a team did move there. Who would that really effect? Not the players, but the same fans that go to NBA games. When these gamblers bet, they are contributing to the local economy. The $635.4 Million that is gambled on hoops in Las Vegas would disappear. Gambling is the bread and butter of the city, and everyone would be hard pressed to see it go away. Adding to the fact its these same funds that would likely (at least) in part fund a new arena that would, you guessed it, house a team.
The ban on betting would do nothing to the NBA players. If they wanted to bet, they'd take their business to the same places everyone else would - online sites, offshore betting, and local bookies. It's doubtful that an NBA player would be dumb enough to be seen betting on his own sport in Las Vegas now. The ban would change nothing for the NBA players the league is so concerned about. They'd take their business elsewhere, and the same possibilities of gambling and fixing games would still be lurking in the shadows. History tells us if someone wants to do something, they'll find a way to make it happen.
If the NBA and Las Vegas are really serious about bringing a city to the town, it has bigger issues to sort out than the gambling one. First, the Thomas and Mack Center has to go. Can they fund, and build a new arena? Such gambling revenue discussed earlier might be a solution, although the league, and others might see an issue with an arena funded by gambling. But if the lottery can send every child in Georgia to college for free, then it can also build an arena.
The second issue is attendance. Will the seats be filled night after night? Las Vegas is a growing city, but will a team thrive in a city that depends on tourism for its economy. The city does have a minor league baseball team - the 51s, who are the AAA affiliate for the Dodgers. Their attendance history is not encouraging. In recent years the team has wallowed in the bottom third of the PCL in regards to attendance, averaging fewer than 4,600 fans.
Gambling has been, and always will be a prickly subject for professional sports leagues. But there are far more pressing issues to be sorted out beforehand in determining whether bringing a team to Las Vegas is a viable option.