NHL’s Las Vegas expansion has Canadian sports betting backer dropping the gloves


nhl-las-vegas-sports-bettingLas Vegas popped its major league sports cherry on Wednesday after the National Hockey League confirmed it would be expanding to the Nevada city in time for the 2017-18 season.

The NHL had only two contenders for its first expansion since the year 2000 – Vegas and Quebec City. The former city has been hungering for some major league attention for decades while the latter city has never really gotten over losing their Nordiques to Colorado in 1995.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Vegas got the nod in part due to “fluctuation of the Canadian dollar,” the value of which had at times this year sunk as low as 68¢ on the US dollar. Since player salaries are paid in US dollars, Quebec’s Canuck-buck ticket prices would have to be set sky-high to balance the books.

Vegas had its own hurdles to clear, in particular, the belief that a pro sports team had no business playing in the only US state in which sports betting is legal because, er, well, it’s not quite clear why, since betting goes on everywhere regardless of its legality.

Bettman said that he didn’t view the Vegas expansion as a “bellwether day” for US sports betting and the league wasn’t going to “make it all that easy for you to pick up a ticket, a gambling ticket, on your way into the [T-Mobile] arena.”

There are no current plans to put betting kiosks in the arena but fans can easily access any number of Nevada-licensed mobile sportsbooks from the comfort of their arena seats. The NHL has the option of asking Nevada gaming regulators to ban betting on the as-yet unnamed franchise, but Bettman offered no indication as to whether the league would exercise this option.

One year ago, Bettman told Rogers Sportsnet that the league didn’t want the fans at its games to be “rooting for anything other than the team that they love … to win. We don’t want there to be another agenda.

While the NHL has embraced daily fantasy sports, it sided with the other three major pro sports leagues in opposing New Jersey’s long-running quest for legal sports betting. The NHL has also opposed various efforts by Canadian politicians to pass single-game sports betting legislation.

On Thursday, Brian Masse, the Canadian MP who introduced the most recent of those legislative efforts, tore a strip off Bettman and the NHL for “moving into the lion’s den of sports betting across the globe” while continuing to oppose his C-221 betting bill.

Masse told the CBC that the Vegas expansion was “a complete betrayal of Canadians,” since the NHL had previously suggested it would withhold expansion franchises from Canadian cities if parliament approved single-game sports betting legislation.

Masse said the NHL had “turned their backs, thumbed their nose and stuck out a finger at legislators here in Canada, because they’re doing this in Vegas and perpetuating their own profits at the expense of Canadian hockey.”