STATESIDE: Las Vegas no longer barren desert on sporting map

Steve Brenner 23:21 30/01/2017
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The floodgates are open in Las Vegas.

With NHL fans excitedly buying tickets ahead of the debut season of the new ice hockey team next year, Sin City is happily bracing itself for a sports explosion.

In years gone by, fears over mob rule, gambling and corruption had seen franchises run for the hills. Today’s Vegas, however, is a continually sprawling metropolis which brings in millions each year as tourists flock in to see the sights.

And with the Oakland Raiders looking nailed on to move into the desert and a sparkling new $1 billion stadium lodged on the world-famous Strip, boxing’s mecca will soon have many more strings to its sporting bow.

Soccer fans in the UK moan about the authorities not looking after supporters interest. Well, try being an NFL follower.

Once Oakland’s move is ratified – there is a meeting in March where it should be confirmed and it will be three years until the Las Vegas Raiders actually start up – it will mean 10 per cent of the league’s 32 cities would have moved in the last 12 months.

Are people upset? Of course. Yet you won’t hear any moans from the suits in the front office.

Moving to Vegas is a cash cow which will just keep on producing. There’s no new stadium being built in Oakland. Owner Mark Davis knows it. Why go through all that bother when moving to Sin City can guarantee a huge windfall and something completely fresh?

Most NFL owners – around 75 per cent – still have to give the thumbs up. But with everyone’s pockets set to be lined, the outcome is obvious.

I spent last week in the city covering Carl Frampton’s title fight with Leo Santa Cruz. Over 5,000 Northern Irish fight fans flew over and emptied their pockets all week in the bars and casinos. They spent a small fortune.

Las Vegas was buzzing with excitement. So just imagine the commercial opportunities if the NFL monster comes to town. The NHL experiment will give everyone a serious taste of what’s to come.

The new stadium, set to be built near the Mandalay Bay hotel, will be right in the heart of all the glitz, glamour and madness.

Nevada State officials have already given the green light for a $750 million investment footed by public funding from a hotel tax increase which, understandably, didn’t go down well with everyone.

But with billionaire hotelier Sheldon Adelson stumping up around $650 million, it’s felt here, certainly among the key decision makers, that the arrival of one of the world’s most lucrative sporting leagues can only be a good thing.

“Las Vegas has grown and is one of the fastest growing metropolitan cities in the US,” boxing promoter Richard Schaefer told Sport360. “It’s changed so much in the last 10 years – flying in from LA you see houses stretching for miles.

“It’s really mushroomed and so now with that growth of population and people coming here from all over the world, there are fight fans, sports fans, NFL fans, so there is a consumer base where it’s no longer just about casinos. Las Vegas has become a resort destination.”

“Gaming used to be the most important factor but it’s not anymore. Conventions, great food, hotels are high end. A lot has changed.”

“Is Las Vegas ready for the NFL? Absolutely.”

“People talk about corruption and worries about that kind of stuff but things have changed. Las Vegas isn’t run by the mob anymore. The rules and regulations have been tightened to the point where I really don’t think it’s an issue.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell is playing his cards close to his chest, insisting the NFL’s strict gambling policy will not be altered. While NBA boss Adam Silver remains very open-minded about embracing the sports betting culture, Goodell remains on the backfoot.

The league are scared stiff of player corruption and with Vegas such a huge gambling epicenter, the fears are understandable, if slightly dated. With over $130 million set to be wagered in Las Vegas on the Super Bowl, however, the numbers just keep adding up and are impossible to ignore.

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