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Las Vegas Mayor: Pro Team in Southern Nevada a 'Guarantee'

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Journal

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to attend a Monday Night Football game live in Las Vegas? What would the NBA or NHL playoff experience bring to 'Sin City'? Or how about an Opening Day MLB start in the desert?

I can tell you exactly what it would be like. The back of your game ticket would be a scratch-off lottery game for lap dances and convertibles. There would be brilliantly lit slot machines in the bathroom stalls. At halftime, an opposing fan would be lowered into a cage and fed to a pair of white Bengal tigers. The vendors would be seven-foot mutants from Eastern Europe and the cheerleaders would be South American vixens. There would be midgets and clowns and a giant money tree that one lucky fan would get to shake at each home game.

It would be beautiful.

Las Vegas and a professional sports team are a natural fit. There are few things as American as the cultish pride, monetary excess and choreographed violence involved in pro athletics in this country. It's in our blood. It's our birthright. And America's Playground is the only city in the country that could possibly match that sort of frenzy and bacchanalia stride-for-stride.

The population of Las Vegas has tripled over the course of the last 20 years to 1.8 million, and it remains one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Its economy pumps out a staggering $72 billion annually, with nearly 38 million tourists blowing through town each year and contributing their mortgage/retirement/child's college fund to that honey pot. If we assume three-fifths of all Las Vegas visitors are sports fans - a measurement the Founding Fathers would approve - that would yield a pool of roughly 24 million fans to draw from.

"I've said before that just like Dallas is America's Team, I truly think that a team in Las Vegas would be the World's Team," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said. "We really have the type of cosmopolitan people out here that would embrace the hometown team."

Goodman is an outspoken, martini-swilling, showgirl-loving Philadelphia native and the ace in the hole for the city's bid for pro sports. He is disarmingly honest, and has the guile and zeal one would expect from an attorney who used to defend such ruthless mobsters as Meyer Lansky and Anthony Spilotro. Goodman is on record in support of canings and thumb amputations as punishment, and has shown up in public surrounded by Elvis impersonators. Would you bet against him?

Goodman has lobbied and prodded owners and commissioners in all major sports to relocate or expand to his orgiastic oasis. Vegas currently hosts major events in boxing, NASCAR, Arena Football, Triple-A baseball and tennis. Also, the city locked up a bid to host the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. They will be the first non-NBA city to do so.

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With the recent financial difficulties of pro sports franchises in Florida, Portland, Seattle, San Diego and New Orleans, the number of potential suitors for Las Vegas seems to be at its pinnacle. Goodman said that discussions have been "real hot" with the NHL.

However, not everyone shares his optimism.

"I believe Las Vegas will not be seriously considered until someone steps up and builds a new arena to host a team," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the sportsbook at the Las Vegas Hilton. "Right now it seems like Las Vegas is just being used as a pawn for some owners to strike deals around the country."

Sin City's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness when it comes to seducing a team into its hypnotic trance. The reason there isn't a team in Las Vegas already has little to do with being the 47th ranked television market, its lack of a state-of-the-art arena or its graveyard of defunct pro franchises since 1976. No, Las Vegas doesn't have a team today because it permits legalized gambling and is seen by some as a modern Sodom and Gomorrah.

It's true that gambling and hedonism are at the soul of Las Vegas. But that's what gives it such a unique relationship with Sports. Vegas is Switzerland with slot machines. The hometown loyalty is to the point spread and every precious edge that she provides. People there are fans of everyone and no one, with allegiance based on whoever provides the best opportunity for a payday. Sports fans in Las Vegas are mercenaries, bounty hunters and war profiteers. And it's unlikely that their attitude will ever change.

That is what strikes Fear into the rulers of the major sports. They are afraid of point-shaving or players consorting with criminal elements. They are scared of anything that could be viewed as a conflict of interest and their hard-line stance against gambling is done in an effort to preserve the integrity of the game. (That is, the integrity remaining after sham officiating, performance enhancing drugs and uneven distribution of wealth.)

Needless to say, this stance by owners and executives is the height of hypocrisy. Goodman stated that the NFL's public actions and outward opposition to gambling is "the most disingenuous reasoning" that he'd ever heard. He also believes there's already illegal gambling at live sporting events in most other sports.

"There's more bets taken during an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden then there is on that game here," Goodman said. "Think about it, you going to sit around watching 10 guys run up and down the court for two hours without some money going around? I didn't think so."

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For my money, the owners and execs are the real criminals. They are vicious and vile, feasting on the flesh of children and old people. Just look at Al Davis. They loot the public treasury for a new stadium. They charge $8.50 for a beer. They claim their low-rent, second-rate organizations are perpetually "rebuilding". They draft emotionally unstable and intellectually shallow children, get them hopped up on Potential and mescaline and turn them loose on society. Then the players are cut loose after they become multiple felons.

It's inconceivable that owners and league executives can pass judgment on Las Vegas or legalized professional gambling on the basis of some moral authority. They have more blood on their hands than most, and since they wouldn't resist the urges of greed and temptation they don't expect anyone else to either.

"They don't realize the Nevada sports books and the league are on the same side," Kornegay said. "We both want 'true' games. If anyone gets hurt on a crooked game it's the sports books. This is why we have so many policies, regulations and procedures to make sure the games stay true."

"Someday they will realize that they need us a lot more than we need them," Goodman said of sports leagues.

The NHL and MLB have stated that if Las Vegas was awarded a franchise the casinos and books would have to agree not to take bets on the home team. This arrangement was a condition of hosting the NBA All-Star Game, and had been in place for UNLV and Nevada athletics until recently. The NBA has said that the books would have to agree not to take any action on any NBA games - period - before Las Vegas would be given its own team.

Over $2.5 billion was gambled through legal channels in Las Vegas in 2005. Nearly $400 million of that was on the NBA. Those are high stakes for casino owners and operators, especially since they form the backbone of the local economy but stand to gain little from the presence of a pro team. Also, what if Las Vegas were awarded an MLB team and it made the World Series, or if they got an NFL team and it played in the Super Bowl? There would be riots in the street and potentially billions of dollars lost.

Should Las Vegas have a pro sports team? Could it even handle one? We will see. But when asked what the odds of Las Vegas having a pro franchise by 2010 were, Goodman didn't hesitate: "It's a guarantee."

Hmm. A guarantee in Vegas? If you're willing to buy that, I'm willing to bet that you'll be welcome in Sin City anytime.

Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at robert@docsports.com.

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