An NBA Team in Las Vegas?

In Vegas, I got into a long argument with the man at the roulette wheel over what I considered to be an odd number.

-Steven Wright

It’s been a while.  Between finals, winter break and a trip, I have not been keeping up with the blog like I should have.  However, with a new semester, I am energized to begin again.  I will start with the topic I planned to discuss last time, an NBA team in Las Vegas, especially in light of recent stories pertaining to this.

Of the four major North American sport leagues, the only one that has even seemed to entertain putting a team is Las Vegas is the NBA.  The NBA has owners who are active in Las Vegas (the Maloof brothers, who own the Palms resort and casino and the Sacramento Kings) and hosted their All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2007.  However, the main obstruction to putting a team in Las Vegas has always been gambling.  The perception would be, if a team is in Vegas, it will be influenced by gambling and lead to fixed games.  Three recent stories have reemphasized the NBA’s concern with its association with gambling.

First, which I discussed in my last post, was Tim Donaghy publishing his book detailing his gambling on NBA games.  The second story involved a Kings scout who was banned from the NBA for betting on league games, including Sacramento games.  And finally, the Gilbert Arenas story, in which he brought guns to the locker after a dispute, originated from gambling on a card game on the team plane.

However, as the above three examples show, gambling is everywhere.  Especially in this age of instant communication, it is naïve to think that gambling cannot reach outside Las Vegas.  It is understandable that the NBA would be hesitant to attach a team to a city noted for gambling, especially in the wake of the Donaghy scandal and the concern of refs “rigging” games.  However, the average sports fan should be sophisticated enough to separate the gambling from the game.  Therefore, the NBA should not allow that to hold them back to putting a franchise in Las Vegas.

At this point, the discussion of whether to put a team in Vegas should be the recession.  Las Vegas was hit particularly hard by the current economic setback.  Prior to it, Las Vegas was one of the fastest growing cities in the country.  Now, it will be interesting to see how Las Vegas responds to this recession.  Its response may determine whether a team will be put there, not just for the NBA, but any sport.  The market there is devoid of any major league sports, so the first team that enters there is likely to capture a large piece of the entertainment market.  That, along with the number of tourists coming through, would make a sports team a good investment for a sport league willing to take a chance.

Next week, I will look at the NBA’s opening an office in India, and whether the NBA can crack into the Indian market.