NHL-to-Las Vegas could be a 'revolutionary' moment for sports betting industry

20 June 2016
T-Mobile Arena

T-Mobile Arena (photo by MGM Resorts International)

Mark it on your calendar in red ink. Wednesday could be a revolutionary day for sports betting in the U.S.
Simply put, you cannot overestimate how significant it will be for the industry if, as widely anticipated and reported by the Associated Press, the National Hockey League officially announces it will send an expansion team to Las Vegas, beginning in 2017.
Sports betting has witnessed a meteoric rise over the last few years. The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wagered about $149 billion on U.S. sports in 2015, and while those numbers could be disputed by a cynic, the figures reported by Nevada sportsbooks cannot.
In 2015, the state wrote a record $4.2 billion in sports wagers, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. That number has nearly doubled since 2005 ($2.2 billion handle), and 2016 got off to a record-breaking start. Thanks to a historic Super Bowl and another stirring March Madness in Sin City, nearly $1.3 billion was wagered on sports in Nevada in Q1 2016, a year-over-year increase of about $183 million.
But despite this swell in popularity, the increased use and offering of mobile sportsbook apps, and casino operators pouring millions and millions of dollars into the enhancement of the sportsbook guest experience, betting on sports has still carried something of a stigma. Not only has the industry stalled in its push for legalization and regulation, the mere presence of sportsbooks has scared away professional sports teams from setting foot in Las Vegas, even though it has long been the country's most populous city without a franchise.
Until now.
Damn those triple-digit temperatures outside. The NHL is coming to The Strip. Not so long ago, those seven words were unfathomable.
"This would have been absolute blasphemy five years or so ago," said legendary bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro from The South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, who has spent 40 years in the sportsbook "racket," as he calls it. "Remember, it wasn't that long ago you couldn't even bring your cell phone into the sportsbook. Now you can place bets on your phone. You bet on the Olympics this year. You can bet on the Heisman Trophy winner. We host four college basketball tournaments a year, and people can bet on those games and then walk 50 yards into the arena and watch it live and in person. We've come a long, long way in a relatively short period of time, and getting the NHL to come here is another piece of the puzzle."
"Someone had to break the dam and be the first to come into the market," American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said at a press conference last week. "I'm not sitting here as a champion for Las Vegas, encouraging every sports league to go there. I'm simply saying what the NHL did is acknowledge that the industry has gone mainstream."
Vaccaro credits gaming regulators for helping educate and prove that the industry is on the up-and-up.
"This is the most transparent industry I have ever seen," said Vaccaro. "I think we have finally convinced everyone that we are monitored and regulated and it's really all quite safe. Everything is on tape. Everything is legit. The concern that was out there about having a professional team in the same city where there is sports betting is silly. It's a non-factor, and people are starting to realize it."
In fact, CG Technology's Vice President of Risk Management Jason Simbal predicts the sports betting industry will aid the new NHL team, and vice versa.
Jimmy Vaccaro

Jimmy Vaccaro

"First off, you're going to get people from other NHL cities, especially the big ones like Detroit and Chicago, planning their trips to Vegas around their team's game here and that's going the help the entire casino industry, including the sportsbooks," said Simbal, whose company operates nine Nevada sportsbooks, including the newly opened one at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a short walk to the T-Mobile Arena, where the new team will play its home games. "These are people who may not typically come to Las Vegas or place a bet in the sportsbook, but now they may come in to bet the game, or bet another one of their home teams on a future bet, like to win the Super Bowl.
"Then you'll have the casual sports fan that lives in Las Vegas or is visiting. They decide to go to the game and since they're going to be there anyway, they stop at the sportsbook in their hotel before they leave and make a bet so they'll have some action. It works both ways."
Of course, the next giant step in the equation would be to land an NFL team. The Oakland Raiders have held much-publicized discussions with Las Vegas over the last few months about packing up and moving to Nevada, and securing an NHL team can only help support that bid.
One of the obstacles is that an NFL team would require building a new state-of-the-art stadium. Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, is trying to orchestrate the new venue — with the help of public money — and if it comes to fruition, the effect on the casino industry would dwarf that of an NHL team. The new stadium would attract much more than just eight home games a season. We're talking some of the biggest sporting events on the calendar — Super Bowls, college football bowl games, NCAA Final Fours — coming to town.
"An NFL team in Las Vegas would absolutely knock the socks off of everyone; it would be huge for the entire industry and the state of Nevada overall," Vaccaro said with a rise in his voice. "I surely hope getting an NHL team proves to (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell and his people that it could and should happen."
When asked to use his expertise and hang a line on if it will happen, Vaccaro paused for a moment and then fired away.
"I'd call it even money," he said. "I may be sticking my neck out there with that one, because there are some speed bumps on the way, but now we have people like Adelson and (Steve) Wynn talking about the positive impact an NFL team could have on the area. That's a good sign. That wasn’t happening a few years ago."
That's why Wednesday's NHL vote for Las Vegas is so significant. It will bring legitimacy. It will knock down barriers. It may help snare an NFL team and ultimately lead to a repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, also known as PASPA, a bill Congress passed in 1992 that outlaws sports betting in all U.S. states, except Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana.
"There's greater comfort with the industry than ever before," Freeman added. "It’s time for a new approach to sports betting that eliminates the federal prohibition and recognizes what the NHL, NBA and others have acknowledged through the rise of daily fantasy sports — today’s fans are seeking greater engagement with the sports, teams and players they enjoy . . . A regulated and transparent market is the best approach for ensuring integrity in the sports."

Gary Trask

Articles by Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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