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October 23, 2019

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NHL hasn’t pursued betting ban for local expansion team

League has until 30 days before the start of team’s inaugural season to petition

NFL Opening Day in Sportsbooks

Steve Marcus

Football fans watch games during NFL opening day at the Red Rock Resort’s race and sportsbook Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015.

Regulators and bookmakers alike have long maintained that Las Vegas landing a professional sports franchise wouldn’t necessitate any change in the sports betting industry.

On the verge of officially bringing an expansion franchise to town, the NHL also hasn’t shown any indication it expects sports books to operate differently. The league hasn’t looked into the possibility of requesting the new team’s betting odds being removed from casinos statewide.

“I haven’t had any conversations with the NHL, and it would certainly be out of the ordinary if that were to occur,” Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board A.G. Burnett said Tuesday. “It seems to me that a lot of the sports leagues are seeing that professional sports can thrive without any issues in a well-regulated betting environment.”

The commissioners of the country’s other three major sports leagues — the NBA’s Adam Silver, Major League Baseball’s Rob Manfred and the NFL’s Roger Goddell — have all expressed positive, changing sentiments on legalized sports gambling recently. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has not, as his most publicized comments on the issue remain when, in an interview with CNN, he questioned if leagues really wanted fans to be rooting for point spreads.

But those involved in sports betting praised the NHL as a beacon for change Tuesday when news of bringing a team to Las Vegas spread. American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman released a statement calling NHL expansion a milestone for the entire gaming industry.

“I don’t think this would have happened five or six years ago,” said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. “But the climate has changed dramatically, and I believe it’s a case of education.”

All of the state’s nearly 200 sports books currently would be allowed to take action on a Las Vegas team, including ones run by MGM Resorts International, which co-owns T-Mobile Arena, where the team will play, according to Burnett.

But the NHL still has more than a year to object. A gaming control board regulation grants the league of any game or series contested in Nevada — such as the NHL season — the opportunity to petition gambling availability within 30 days of the event starting.

“They would simply file a written request that wagers be prohibited, then the commission would hear that and theoretically be able to approve that request,” Burnett said.

Bookmakers hope it doesn’t happen and think such a move would reflect a deep misunderstanding. Sports books are as invested in games’ integrity as the leagues themselves, as they could stand to lose millions of dollars and dissuade customers with any sort of impropriety.

“I certainly would be disappointed if they submitted that request,” Kornegay said. “I believe we would be sending the wrong message by doing so. I think it would be best for the games to be on the board. How awkward would it be for us to accept wagers on local colleges and not the pro teams? But I don’t think it’s going to come to that. I think they would have asked about it first before awarding the team.”

Gambling was not among the numerous hold-ups delaying the NHL coming to town over the past couple years. The league will determine whether it causes any controversy before the start of the games.

“We obviously stand ready to listen if a professional sports team wants to talk to us about how we regulate sports betting, or if they wanted to petition, we’d certainly be here to talk to them about that,” Burnett said. “Barring none of that occurring, it’s business as usual.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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