Tourism Board Investigated After Gifting Each Las Vegas WNBA Player $100K

Posted on: May 18, 2024, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: May 18, 2024, 08:14h.

The WNBA is investigating $100,000 gifts made by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) to each of the 12 players on the Las Vegas Aces. The players are being given the money — with no strings attached — on top of the regular salaries they will collect for this season and 2025.

In a still from a video posted by the LVCVA to Twitter on Friday, president Steve Hill, left, surprises the Aces with the news at a team meeting. (Image: Twitter/X)

“Today, we want to do something that is new, something I don’t think anybody’s ever done before,” LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill addressed the team in a video his agency posted to Twitter on Friday. “We want to recognize you individually. We want to put some money in your pockets.”

The news comes a week after the two-time defending WNBA champions were recognized by President Biden at the White House for their 2023 WNBA Finals win over the New York Liberty in October.

Mixed Reaction

Initially, some saw the LVCVA’s gifts, which it labeled “sponsorships,” as a means to even the pay gap between men’s and women’s sports.

“WOW!” tweeted Women’s Hoops Network. “Investing in women. Investing in community. Huge!!”

Others saw the gifts as a loophole around the WNBA’s salary cap — a way to keep a championship team intact in the face of attempts by rival teams to lure away its best players.

The 2024 salaries paid by the team — owned by billionaire Mark Davis, who also owns the Raiders — to its championship core were $200,000 to Kelsey Plum and A’Ja Wilson, $196,267 to Chelsea Gray, $169,950 to Jackie Young, and $110,000 to Alysha Clark, according to reporting by the New York Times.

Six of the Aces don’t even earn $100,000 salaries, the Times reported.

Foul Ball?

The LVCVA believes that its “sponsorships” do not violate the league’s salary cap of $1.43 million per team, because the tourism board did not orchestrate the deals with the club. Instead, it worked secretly with each player’s agent, structuring the deals similarly to the Name, Image, and Likeness deals cut between third parties and college athletes.

However, ESPN reports that the WNBA already has “an open investigation” looking into the propriety of the gifts, which effectively achieve the same goal as illegal salary bumps..

The news is also raising the hackles of critics who point out that the cash comes from the revenue LVCVA earns from hotel room taxes.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” tweeted @TomD80106675. “Mark Davis, worth some $2.3 billion and more than capable of gifting each player $100,000 … but no, let’s use taxpayer money.”