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December 4, 2021

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NBA watching, but not jumping into Las Vegas market

NBA Summer League - Roscoe and Khem

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Washington forward Khem Birch and Atlanta forward Adreian Payne jockey for a rebound during their NBA Summer League game Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The first major league to play regular-season games in Las Vegas does not plan to do so again anytime soon.

Mark Tatum, deputy commissioner of the NBA, said Tuesday that the league does not intend to follow the NHL or the NFL into the desert just yet.

“The short-term answer is no,” Tatum said during a session at the National Association of Broadcasters convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center. “We’re not in expansion mode right now.”

Tatum said the NBA will watch closely to see how the Vegas Golden Knights and Las Vegas Raiders fare as the first Southern Nevada entrants in the four major pro sports leagues.

“Oh, sure, I think it’s a fascinating story to see,” Tatum said. “Two leagues come in now with two franchises in this market. There’s been so much discussion over the last several years about could Las Vegas sustain a professional franchise. Now we’re going to find out.”

Asked what measures the NBA will track in evaluating whether Las Vegas could be a viable market in the future, Tatum pointed to two.

“It’s pretty simple. There are a couple of things. One is, can they fill the buildings?” Tatum said. “So are there enough fans? In the case of hockey, you have 41 regular-season games, which is what we would have to have as well. Is there corporate support and is that support ongoing? Those are some of the things that we would look at, and that we would look at in any potential expansion market.”

Expansion might not be the only option, though. MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren said in a recent interview that he wants to attract an existing NBA franchise to Las Vegas.

“It wouldn’t be an expansion team,” Murren told KNPR’s "State of Nevada" in October. “It would most likely be relocation of a team.”

The NBA embraced Las Vegas more than any other major league in the past. The Utah Jazz played regular-season games at the Thomas & Mack Center in the mid-1980s, including the game in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke the career scoring record. The Los Angeles Lakers also held a playoff game in the arena in 1992 in a game moved because of riots in Los Angeles.

The NBA also has hosted its Summer League at the Thomas & Mack and Cox Pavilion since 2004. The league staged its All-Star Game in Las Vegas in 2007.

Tatum also discussed the league’s progressive attitude toward gambling, as expressed in recent years by Commissioner Adam Silver.

“One of the recognitions we had is that, it’s happening,” Tatum said. “All you have to do is go onto any website, just type ‘bet NBA, bet NFL.’ Hundreds of billions of dollars are being bet annually on games, so one of the things that we said is that let’s get federal and national regulation on this to bring it into the sunlight.”

Tatum said the NBA talks to the English Premier League and other professional outfits to understand how they deal with gambling, including “integrity measures” they have implemented.

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