One issue the NHL had to address before awarding Las Vegas its first major professional sports franchise, was what influence gambling might have on the sport with a team located in Sin City. Owner Bill Foley assured the league then it would have no impact, a stance he reiterated in a story on ESPN.com Thursday.
“Gambling is irrelevant to what we’re all about,” said Foley, a former attorney and businessman. “You can’t gamble in the arena. When we have a game day, we go down on the sports books so you won’t be able to bet on the Golden Knights at some of the local casinos.”
Foley was presumably referring to the fact that T-Mobile Arena offers no gambling, even though, technically, interested bettors will be able to use mobile phone apps to place bets during games from their seats.
What sportsbooks will do during a game is not quite so certain. The NHL can decide if games are taken off the board in Las Vegas sportsbooks, but to do that the league must make a formal request 30 days in advance.
The first regular season NHL game is Oct. 10, and Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman AG Burnett confirmed to Legal Sports Report that no such request had yet been made.
“The books can obviously take bets on any event they wish, as long as it is within our regulations,” Burnett said.
Hockey is not particularly popular among sports bettors. Of the four major professional sports leagues, the NHL in terms of betting interest it generates at casinos. (NFL games garner the most action, followed by the NBA, and then Major League Baseball.)
Some league commissioners are warming to the idea of having casinos connected to their games. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfied said in February that he was rethinking baseball’s long held philosophical opposition to betting on baseball.
“(Betting) can be a form of fan engagement,” he said. It can fuel the popularity of a sport.”
But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been less vocal in support of sports betting. He insists that hockey fans are more interested in the action on the ice any betting lines.
“Gambling for us is probably an entirely different focus than, say, football or basketball, either at the pro or at the college level,” Bettman said last year at a press conference. “We’re about one percent of the book. Our game doesn’t lend itself to gambling in the same way that football and basketball do.”
SCOTUS Possible Game Changer
So while both Foley and Bettman are insisting that having a team in Las Vegas won’t change anything, a Supreme Court decision expected soon could prove to be a total game changer.
The Supreme Court is currently considering a case from New Jersey, which is suing for the right to offer sports betting in that state. If they win, the decision could overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which would effectively allow any state to pass laws legalizing sports betting, making the matter of having teams in Las Vegas a moot point.
While the court is expected to hear the case this fall, a decision is eagerly anticipated in 2018.
As far as being close to casinos, Foley told ESPN that most states have gambling options so that shouldn’t be a unique problem.
“It just isn’t a factor any longer,” he said. “Honestly, there’s gambling all across the country,” Foley said, “in Indian casinos, in Atlantic City, Detroit. So it’s really not relevant in our view. We’re just here to play hockey and win hockey games.”