View Full Version : Rolling the dice

02-17-2007, 07:06 AM
Rolling the dice

Is the NBA finally willing to gamble on moving a franchise to Las Vegas?

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Not long ago it would have been a sucker bet. The kind of wager only Charles Barkley would have been foolish enough to lay down.

Now, the chances of an NBA team setting up shop in the gambling capital of North America could be even money. Why the change?

The 2007 NBA All-Star Game is a good place to start.

NBA commissioner David Stern said as recently as last year: "We are not going to go there [to Las Vegas] while they have betting on NBA games." With the league's star-studded three-day extravaganza engulfing this slice of the Nevada desert, the heavy hand once taken by Stern has folded.

He's been forced to re-evaluate his position as more owners lend their support to Las Vegas' NBA hopes. Owners, after all, sign Stern's checks.

"The question now is which NBA team moves there," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. "We've finally got the commissioner convinced that expansion isn't a good thing.

"If all the demographics and financials work out, why wouldn't we have a team there?"

The sports books, for one. The chief obstacle for Las Vegas' viability as a major professional market (NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL) hasn't been market size or economic ability.

"No one has ever explained to me why being on the sports books is a bad thing," Cuban said. "Does anybody know?"

The city's gaming roots, once so closely tied to organized crime, offer one explanation. Las Vegas, however, has undergone a renaissance in recent decades, redefining itself as a convention destination able to handle marquee events while also remaining family-friendly.

So it made sense when the NBA agreed to stage its first All-Star Game in a non-league city.

"Las Vegas is used to the biggest events in the world -- Ali fights, Tyson fights, the Rolling Stones -- but I don't think the city has ever experienced anything like this," said Joe Maloof, whose family owns the Sacramento Kings and the ultra-trendy Palms hotel, and worked to promote the city's All-Star bid.

"The All-Star Game has such international flare. You have media from all over the world attending. It gives Vegas the opportunity to show off what it can do as a city, and it gives the NBA great exposure."

Whether the exposure becomes permanent is the next step.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is determined to bring either the NBA or NHL to his city.

"He wants that to be his legacy," Maloof said.

The SuperSonics and Hornets are both considered candidates for relocation. Efforts to build a new arena in Seattle have stalled, while the future of the Hornets after they return to New Orleans next season is uncertain.

Should any team become a "free agent," the list of willing suitors would include, at a minimum, Las Vegas, Anaheim, Kansas City and Oklahoma City.

Taking into account Las Vegas' assets, Maloof acknowledges the pitfalls.

"The owners, for the most part, would like to see a team in Las Vegas," he said. "Now it's up to the league. There has to be a way to solve the gambling problem. Until that's done, I don't think there will ever be a team in Vegas, regardless of what the owners think."

The casinos won't ever take the NBA completely off books.

"It generates too much revenue, especially during the playoffs," Maloof said.

He does believe a compromise can be reached, such as not taking bets on Vegas' team. The sports books once employed the same policy with UNLV. The casinos aren't taking wagers on any of the All-Star events.

The city is no stranger to the NBA or big-time basketball. Las Vegas already supports a summer league (the Mavs are one of the participants) and is the host for the FIBA Americas tournament, a 2008 Beijing Olympics qualifier. UNLV was once the toast of the town, with the stars occupying the courtside seats at the Thomas & Mack Center rivaling those in Los Angeles.

NBA players would certainly welcome America's Playground into the league. The Palms is the official player hotel this week and an unofficial celebrity hot spot year-round.

The gambling issue doesn't appear to be one with the NBA's rank-and-file. Mavericks player Jerry Stackhouse pointed out that legal gambling is easily accessible in a number of league cities.

Vegas, however, would be unique.

"I guess having a casino in the lobby would be a little bit different," Stackhouse said with a laugh.

That's a good bet.

02-17-2007, 12:33 PM
I just can't fathom how a team could be successful in Vegas. A one time event like the All Star game? Sure. Vegas is all about big events. But a regular NBA team, playing there twice a week? I don't see it having much staying power, with all the other entertainment options available.

If it was a great team, maybe. But is anyone in Vegas going to see the Sonics with all the other options? Would you?

02-17-2007, 12:36 PM
But as a free agent, wouldn't you LOVE to sign for a team that plays in Vegas twice a week?

02-17-2007, 12:40 PM
But as a free agent, wouldn't you LOVE to sign for a team that plays in Vegas twice a week?

Sure. But it would suck to play in front of 10,000 people every night.