Thursday, Aug. 2, 2001 | 11:06 a.m.
Until further notice, local fans will still have to rely on the 51s for their pro baseball fix.
The Oakland Athletics and Mandalay Sports Entertainment vigorously denied Wednesday that the company has bought the American League team and might move it to Las Vegas.
Neither party denied that talks were held or an offer was made, but a Mandalay Sports spokesman told the Sun, "We aren't going to be buying the team. The answer is a simple no."
Mandalay Sports owns three minor-league teams, including the triple-A Las Vegas 51s, who play at Cashman Field. The company is seeking to build a new minor-league stadium in downtown Las Vegas on a prime plot of city-owned land.
Wednesday's denials were in response to Bay Area newspaper stories in which an Oakland city councilman said an A's executive told him the franchise was sold to Mandalay Sports last weekend, calling it "a done deal."
Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente, who oversees Oakland's relationships with its sports franchises, said he was told that A's owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann accepted an offer topping $150 million from Mandalay Sports, headed by chairman Peter Guber and vice chairman Paul Schaeffer.
de la Fuente also speculated the team might be moved to Las Vegas.
"Las Vegas doesn't have a stadium, but they have a lot of money to build one," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
A's owners, involved in lease negotiations with Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum, dismissed the stories as "inaccurate and presumptuous."
"To report any type of deal has been reached with a prospective outside ownership group or (that) the sale of the A's franchise is (imminent) is totally inaccurate," team president Mike Crowley said, reading a statement by A's ownership.
Scott Haggerty, head of the Oakland-Alameda County authority that oversees the Coliseum, told the Chronicle that a high-ranking A's official told him the potential sale had fallen through.
"My impression is that there was a deal on the table, but at this point it is no longer viable," Haggerty said. "The discussions have ended."
However, de la Fuente didn't back away from his statements, and the Contra Costa Times today reported that the A's are still mulling an unsolicited offer from Mandalay Sports.
de la Fuente said, "I think we caught (the A's) off guard, and they're trying to figure out how to spin it. I think they need another day or so to deal with a press strategy. And I think they're regrouping because they don't know how to do it."
The Contra Costa Times quoted an anonymous Mandalay Sports source who said, "It's a good deal, but as with any deal, there are a lot of intricacies that need to be worked out. Once we've addressed every detail, we believe (the A's owners) will accept the deal."
Though Mandalay Sports spokesman Kevin Mortesen emphatically denied the company will buy the team, he didn't deny that Guber and Schaeffer had shown renewed interest in the A's. They looked into buying the team two years ago.
"(Mandalay Sports) is always looking at opportunities to expand its portfolio of teams, but to my knowledge, the A's are not on the open market," Mortesen said. "Whether or not we have had discussions (with the A's), I can't say. But we're not buying them."
The A's said, "It is not unusual for ownership to receive inquiries from time to time regarding the availability of the team for purchase."
Nevertheless, team spokesman Jim Young blasted de la Fuente for spurring the reports.
"For an Oakland city official to take it upon himself to make those statements was totally irresponsible and shows a bad lack of judgment," he said.
Mortesen said the stories were false.
"The bottom line is easy: neither Peter Guber, nor Paul Schaeffer, nor Mandalay Sports will be purchasing the Oakland A's," Mortesen said from Los Angeles.
"I don't know where (de la Fuente's) comments came from. The whole thing is largely rumor and a lot of things that have been blown out of proportion. The fact of the matter is we are not going to be buying the team."
Normally, the sale of the A's wouldn't be of particular interest in Las Vegas. But because of Mandalay Sports' ownership of the 51s -- and the mistaken notion that the company also owns Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino -- it led to immediate speculation Wednesday that the A's could be Vegas-bound.
The hotel-casino is owned by Mandalay Resort Group, which has no affiliation to Mandalay Sports or its parent company, Mandalay Entertainment, a movie production company based in Marina Del Ray, Calif.
The Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle erroneously reported that Mandalay Sports also owned the hotel-casino. That faulty premise led a Chronicle columnist to wonder whether Major League Baseball would approve of the A's being sold to a company with "gambling connections."
"Those stories are so mistaken," Mortesen said.
If Mandalay Sports were to buy the A's, Las Vegas isn't regarded as a top contender if the company attempts to move the franchise, mainly because Major League Baseball is hesitant to have a team in a city where sports wagering is legal.
For a baseball team to relocate to Las Vegas, Major League Baseball will almost certainly require that Nevada sports books stop accepting wagers on all MLB games.
Though baseball is far less critical to Nevada sports books than football or basketball -- accounting for only 14 percent of the total amount won on sports bets in the last 12 months through May 31 -- the books likely wouldn't be receptive to such an edict from baseball.
"Speaking on the issue in general, we do not believe there is any reason why legalized, regulated and taxed sports gambling can't go on alongside professional sports," MGM MIRAGE spokesman Alan Feldman said.
"Lord knows, there's plenty of illegal gambling going on today in the Bay area. The notion that we should take something that's legal and regulated and make it illegal and unregulated just because a team is here is absurd.
"That philosophy should apply whether it's a hockey team or a basketball team, a football team or a baseball team."
MLB spokesman Rich Levin didn't return a phone call today seeking baseball's stance on sports wagering as it would apply to a team in Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, several cities are regarded as better potential landing spots if the A's relocate. Santa Clara, Calif., agreed July 24 to begin formal discussions about moving the A's there in 2005. Portland and Sacramento have also been mentioned as possible destinations.
Levin said MLB has not been notified of an A's sale proposal.
"Nothing has been submitted to our office," he told the Associated Press. "Until something like that happens, we would not be involved."
In 1996 while the then-Oakland Coliseum was being renovated, the A's played their first six "home" games at Cashman Field.
Sun business writer David Strow
contributed to this report. The San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times
contributed to this story.