Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

NHL Becomes First Major Sport to Put a Team in Las Vegas

  • Fidelity National Financial Chairman Bill Foley is co-owner
  • League owners rejected Quebec’s bid for an expansion team

Las Vegas is getting a major league team.

The National Hockey League voted Wednesday to add a franchise in Las Vegas, a city big-time professional sports leagues have until now avoided because sports betting is legal there. The team, which doesn’t have a name yet, will play in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference.

“This is a tremendously exciting opportunity,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at a press conference in Las Vegas. An expansion draft for the new team will be held at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

The committee also deferred an expansion proposal from Quebec City, which has been without a hockey team since the Nordiques left in 1995. The NHL called the city “a prime opportunity” for expansion, but cited concerns about geographic balance and the “recent and significant” devaluation of the Canadian dollar.

An investment group led by Fidelity National Financial Inc. Chairman Bill Foley will own the Las Vegas franchise. The investors have already collected 14,000 season-ticket deposits and signed a lease agreement with the new T-Mobile Arena owned by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group. Members of the Maloof family, which once owned basketball’s Sacramento Kings and the Palms Casino Resort just off the Vegas Strip, are investing alongside Foley.

Expansion Fee

The group will pay a one-time expansion fee of $500 million, to be split among the owners. The last time the league added teams -- Columbus and Minnesota in 2000 -- the expansion fees were about $80 million each.

While Las Vegas has college sports and NASCAR, the city has never been home to a big four sports team. The leagues and their owners worried that because sports betting is legal in Las Vegas, games would be more susceptible to match-fixing. There was a point-shaving scandal at the University of Las Vegas in the early 1990s.

Bettman said the NHL wasn’t deterred by the city’s legal sports betting because far less money is wagered on hockey than other major sports. According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, $1.8 billion was bet on football and $1.4 billion on basketball in the year ended April 30. Hockey is lumped into a separate “other” category with less popular sports that drew $336 million in bets during that time.

“Compared to basketball or football our game is less susceptible to gambling,” Bettman said. “We don’t worry about the integrity of our game. We’re more focused on the atmosphere in the arena.”

Less Concerned

Executives in all sports seem less concerned now. While sports betting is still illegal in most U.S. states, it is widely available to people with access to the internet. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said betting on sports is inevitable and should be federally regulated.

The deal gives MGM a marquee tenant for its new arena, which opened in April behind the company’s New York-New York Hotel & Casino. With the U.S. market for gambling saturated, Las Vegas casino operators have invested in other forms of entertainment, including night clubs, restaurants and shows. 

Las Vegas Sands Corp. said last month it would build a music venue behind its Venetian resort in Las Vegas. The company, controlled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is also looking to move the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders to the city in a new stadium that could cost as much as $1.4 billion.

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