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Wednesday Editorial: Hockey in Vegas? Don’t bet on it

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?

This famous question can apply to hockey in Las Vegas just as well.  Last weekend I was in Las Vegas and I made a point of keeping a watchful eye on hockey’s prominence in the city and mainly its numerous sports books.  Well, let’s just say hockey is ahead of MLS Soccer but not that much farther ahead. 

There have recently been rumblings of the NHL expanding or moving an existing team to the city of Las Vegas.  After my recent visit to the gambling capital of the world I think that idea should be put to bed.  First of all, the Las Vegas economy is struggling as badly, if not worse, than any other American city’s economy at this point in time.  Never mind the shops and streets being far less busy than usual but the city’s housing market is in complete disarray.  Put it this way, the economy is so poor that hotels currently being built on Las Vegas Boulevard are half-way completed however construction has been halted due to a lack of finances and willing investors.  Combine that with foreclosures galore and I’m not so sure the Vegas economy could even support an NHL team.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume for a second that the economy was booming in Las Vegas.  Would that suddenly make the NHL a more viable option?  I personally don’t think it would at all.  Hockey is a non-entity in Nevada.  In many hotel’s sports books, the odds aren’t even posted on the main board with the other “big four” sports.  Instead, hockey fans who want to put a little money on their teams while having a drink have to walk over and get an NHL sheet stating the odds.  Of course, these odds don’t account for line movement because they are not digital on the book’s boards.  But forget that, when the NHL teams start playing (usually at 4 Pacific Time daily) they are rarely on the book’s televisions.  If they are, they are put on a corner television or the smallest televisions the book’s have.  In short, no one bets on hockey, no one demands for hockey to be on television or put more simply—no one cares about hockey in Las Vegas.  Monday through Friday is NBA and College Basketball betting season and the weekends are totally dominated by Football (both college and professional).  Hockey is a non-factor and to think that people would leave the strip to go and watch a hockey game they don’t care about, to me, is a complete misunderstanding of the market. 

So, basically we’ve established that no one cares about hockey in Las Vegas and we have not even broached the topic of NHL betting should the league decide Las Vegas is a viable market.  You would have to assume that if Commissioner Bettman moved to a team to Nevada that he would push for an agreement from the casinos on the Nektan casinos list to not allow for NHL betting in Clark County.  For the purposes of this article, we will assume the casinos would agree to that; but then how do you raise awareness of the game?  As much as you want to believe there are sports fans in Vegas, the classic saying is “my favourite team is the one I bet on.”  Is that mindset going to suddenly change?  I don’t think so.

The NHL has a number of problem markets, and relocation should probably be examined if not now, then in the near future, but in this writer’s opinion, Las Vegas should not be among the cities consistently listed as a candidate for relocation or expansion.  The NHL would be far better served relocating a team to a Northern hockey market where there are fans with a true passion for the game.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.