Photo: Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images
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There was a time not very long ago that the general view of Las Vegas among professional sports leagues, apparently, was that it was a town rife with people of questionable moral character. You've seen the caricatures, people wandering around all hours of the day and night, in and out of casinos, mustard-stained shirts no longer an embarrassment, wondering how the rent's going to get paid after yet another bad session at the roulette wheel.
Having said people potentially in such daily, close proximity to athletes, coaches and team administrators, the thinking seemed to continue, was simply too risky a proposition to locate franchises here. Too many temptations, perhaps, to shave a point or three. Just too seedy a place.
So how is it that this former sleepy little dot on the map in the desert appears to have become a darling of these leagues?
The NFL's Raiders walked out on Oakland and set up shop. The Golden Knights of the NHL are doing business here too. And now comes word Major League Soccer is eyeing Las Vegas intently for possible expansion. Major League Baseball's A's, which would deal a humiliating one-two gut punch on that other, less-famous city by the bay in northern California, by leaving, is considering relocation. The city is reportedly high on the wish list for the NBA as well. The Las Vegas Aces, of the WNBA, have been here since 2018.
From 1949 until Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), in 1992, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush days before he lost reelection, Nevada, and Las Vegas, in particular, enjoyed a near-monopoly on legalized sports betting. Then, just three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned PASPA, allowing nearly every other state to get in on the action. Nevada, along with Delaware, Montana and Oregon, had been granted exemptions of one form or another.
And the states are jumping into this world with glee.
Out the window with the Supreme Court ruling were any and all lingering reservations leagues had about playing ball with Las Vegas, a city of about 650,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It's poised to sport teams in all four major American sports leagues, which would put it on par with the likes of much larger cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
I never thought I would live to see the day that were a possibility, much less actually happen. It's not far off. We're already halfway there.
The Raiders, Knights and Aces have not been in Las Vegas long enough to make any reliable declarations about the long-term viability of professional sports but the early data are indeed encouraging. The Raiders sold all of its personal seat licenses at its new stadium before it opened, and the Knights, according to ESPN, are ranked seventh overall in attendance in the NHL so far this season but No. 1 in the league in percentage of seats filled, 104 percent, obviously above capacity. The Aces finished its season among the top quarter of teams in attendance, including a team-record 9,680 for a playoff game in October, according to ESPN. The Las Vegas Aviators, a minor-league team in the Oakland A's system, play at a beautiful new ballpark and have attracted a loyal following, leading Triple-A West in attendance this past season, averaging 6,590.
Adding NBA, MLB and MLS franchises to the mix certainly will provide a test for this modestly sized metroplex's ability to support a half-dozen or more pro teams. It will be fun to see how it all evolves.
Living here part-time feels less like a destination than it once did and more like a home with these franchises up and running in the city. It's an exciting time for Las Vegas.
So if you come for a visit and happen to run into me somewhere, please don't mention the mustard on my collar. I know it's there. I'm past the embarrassment.
That's my take. What's yours? Fire off your comments!