SLS Las Vegas Casino Owner Alex Meruelo Purchase of NHL Arizona Coyotes Further Strengthens Gaming and Sports Relationship

Posted on: June 24, 2019, 10:06h. 

Last updated on: June 24, 2019, 10:06h.

SLS Las Vegas casino owner Alex Meruelo’s purchase of the NHL Arizona Coyotes franchise is the latest development in strengthening the relationship between the gaming industry and professional sports.

Alex Meruelo Coyotes SLS Las Vegas
Alex Meruelo’s ownership of the NHL Coyotes is bringing casinos and professional sports even closer. (Image: KM Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Meruelo confirmed rumors earlier this month that he was indeed exploring an acquisition of the NHL team. Last week, the NHL Board of Governors unanimously approved the sale to the real estate and media billionaire.

Meruelo tends to shun the media spotlight, but Coyotes President Ahron Cohen told fans in a letter, “This process has at its core one key pre-condition: any investment in our team must be laser-focused on helping the Coyotes achieve a long-term sustainable arena solution here in Arizona.”

The investment is further proof that the troubled relationships between the “big four” pro leagues in the US – NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL – with those invested in the gaming industry are improving. For decades, the leagues had largely opposed casino owners from holding substantial positions in team franchises.

However, the NHL hasn’t been at odds with gaming as much as the other three. The hockey league was the first to allow a team to be located in Las Vegas when it authorized the expansion Golden Knights organization in 2017.

Meruelo’s purchase of the Coyotes wasn’t revealed, but Forbes values the team at $290 million.

Coyote Ugly

The Arizona Coyotes have been losing money for years. The NHL took ownership of the team after it declared bankruptcy in 2009. The league sold the Coyotes to Andrew Barroway in 2013. The team’s last winning season came in 2013-2014.

Meruelo is known for taking troubled assets and turning them profitable. His company acquired the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno in 2011 and reversed its struggling fortune into a money-making property.

The businessman is in the process of overhauling SLS Las Vegas, the north Strip casino he purchased in April 2018 for an undisclosed sum from Stockbridge Capital. Meruelo is spending $100 million to renovate and reinvigorate the struggling casino, and return the casino to its iconic Sahara roots.

He explained to the Nevada Gaming Control Board last year, “I was told there was no way in hell that I would be able to turn the Grand Sierra around. If I can turn around the Grand Sierra Resort, I could do that at SLS.”

Gaming and Sports

Since the Supreme Court’s repeal of PASPA, the federal sports betting ban that outlawed full-scale sports betting everywhere except Nevada, the big four leagues have begun to embrace the gambling activity. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL have all reached partnerships with sports betting data monitoring firms in an effort to better detect suspicious activity.

Golden Nugget billionaire owner Tilman Fertitta became the first casino magnate to acquire sole ownership of a big four team when he purchased the NBA Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in September of 2017. However, in wake of the SCOTUS ruling and expansion of sports betting into new states, certain gaming regulations barred Fertitta’s sportsbooks from taking wagers on the NBA due to his involvement.

In New Jersey, lawmakers are considering amending their sports betting rules to allow Fertitta’s Golden Nugget to begin offering odds on the NBA. However, it’s likely that bets involving the Rockets will remain barred at the Marina District casino.