According to reports, the NHL has chosen Las Vegas as the location for the league’s next expansion team. The move is contingent upon both a vote from the NHL’s board of governors and the Las Vegas coalition coming up with $500 million to pay an expansion fee (one night of craps should do the trick).
Though ice hockey and the Nevada desert may seen incongruous (or even, say, an affront to nature), this comes after multiple attempts at bringing professional sports teams to Las Vegas. Some of these attempts have been more genuine than others. Historically, Las Vegas has been used by team owners as a means to threaten their current city and state governments into ponying up cash for newer and fancier stadiums.
For years, these were likely empty threats. The presence of legalized sports gambling in Las Vegas scared away most leagues, and the stadiums in the city weren’t pro-caliber. Still, Las Vegas politicians and investors persisted, building a 20,000-seat arena and hosting things like NBA All-Star Games, summer league, and the NHL Awards. As for the gambling aspect, it has been more than 15 years since Nevada lifted a ban that prohibited betting on sports played in-state and, as Forbes reports, because there haven't been any issues with the city’s collegiate programs since then, the specter of sports betting doesn’t frighten leagues like it used to.
All this paved the way for Las Vegas’ future, as-yet-unnamed hockey team. They may be the first pro sports team in the city’s history, but others came close. Here’s a look at six of those teams.
1. MONTREAL EXPOS
In the early 2000s, financial troubles and ownership instability meant the Montreal Expos would be looking for a new home. Washington, D.C. looked to be the most likely choice for the switch, but Las Vegas emerged as a strong contender in 2004. The reason for this was most likely because, as the Washington Post reported, MLB commissioner Bud Selig wanted to “avoid a confrontation with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who contends that placing the Expos in Washington or Northern Virginia would cause irrevocable harm to his franchise.”
Still, the league kept its options open, and sent officials to Las Vegas to get wined and dined. According to the Post, “Members of the group took in a Celine Dion concert at Caesar's Palace…and dined at Prime, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten-operated steakhouse inside the Bellagio hotel.” They visited a downtown site for a stadium that would’ve been perfect—except for the fact that the investors lost their financing and that stadium would never be built.
Soon after, Washington, D.C. was awarded the team, and they were renamed the Washington Nationals.
2. FLORIDA MARLINS
In 2004, officials representing the Florida Marlins met with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman about possibly moving the team to the city. This came in the midst of negotiations the Marlins were conducting with Miami over funding for a new stadium, leaving some public officials a little upset. "I was disappointed that they publicly announced the negotiations and discussions with Las Vegas," Florida State Senate president Tom Lee told reporters, "And I don't negotiate with terrorists."
Less than three years later, Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami both agreed to help fund the stadium, pledging to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds. (The actual costs appear to be much higher than even that.)
3. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Raiders ownership has made it very clear that they refuse to share a stadium with the Oakland Athletics anymore, even if it means leaving Oakland altogether. Owner Mark Davis recently said he would put $500 million towards a new stadium in Las Vegas for the team (the stadium would cost about $1.4 billion total), even though the move hasn’t yet been approved by Nevada or the NFL.
The city of Oakland isn’t likely to build a new billion-dollar stadium, so if the team doesn’t wind up in Vegas, they’ll likely move somewhere else. However, it sounds like Mark Davis has his heart set on Nevada. “The Raiders are undefeated in Las Vegas,” he joked.
4. SACRAMENTO KINGS
The will-they-won’t-they drama between the Kings and Sacramento has ended (for now), but for years a move out of California’s capital seemed in the cards. One logical location was Las Vegas—logical because the Maloof brothers who owned the team had made their money from their family’s casinos in Las Vegas.
The brothers were instrumental in bringing the NBA All-Star game to Vegas in 2007 (it was their idea in the first place), but new investors bought the Kings in 2013 from them and a move to Nevada never materialized.
5. SEATTLE SUPERSONICS
During the Seattle Supersonics’ contentious move out of the city, team owner Clay Bennett outwardly flirted with Las Vegas. After Washington State balked at his demands to fund a new arena, Bennett met with the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2007 and gushed about Vegas. A member of the bureau told reporters, "What I heard [Bennett] say was that if he ended up having to move the team, Vegas would likely be a more attractive market than Oklahoma City.”
No matter what he said during that meeting, Bennett was likely just using Las Vegas as leverage—he and his ownership group only had eyes for Oklahoma City, and the team moved there in 2008.
6. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
In an attempt to milk Wisconsin for public funds to build a new stadium, Milwaukee Bucks owner Peter Feigin used the age-old move of threatening to move the team to Vegas. As the AP reported in July 2015, “Feigin told the [Wisconsin] Legislature's budget committee earlier this month that if construction on a new arena didn't begin this year, the NBA would move the team, possibly to Las Vegas or Seattle.”
The threat worked, and the state pledged $250 million in public funds for the new arena shortly thereafter.
BONUS: THE LAS VEGAS OUTLAWS
While not one of the "big four" pro leagues, the XFL did in fact pay their players, making the Las Vegas Outlaws a professional football team in the city. The team participated in the XFL's inaugural game in 2001 and played one season before the league folded. They finished last in their division behind the Los Angeles Xtreme, the San Francisco Demons, and the Memphis Maniax (who can forget them?), and missed the playoffs.