WNBA Team Purchased by MGM, Moving to Las Vegas

Professional sports leagues in the United States are running out of legs to stand on when it comes to their opposition to sports betting as yet another pro team will soon be relocating to Las Vegas. Not only that, but the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars will be owned by gaming giant MGM Resorts International.

The league confirmed the approval of both the sale and the move on Tuesday; the Stars will start the 2018 season in Las Vegas.

The Stars are one of the WNBA’s eight original teams, dating back to 1997, when the team was called the Utah Starzz (ugh – I know, but some of the original teams had names that linked them to the NBA team in that city/state and Utah’s NBA team is the Jazz). The teams were collectively owned by the NBA, but after the 2002 season, the NBA sold the teams to their NBA partners or outside buyers; it was at this time that the Starzz moved to San Antonio and changed the name to the Silver Stars. And now it’s on to Las Vegas under MGM ownership and management.

“We are thrilled to bring the first major professional basketball team to Las Vegas,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders in a press release.  “This city and MGM Resorts are synonymous with world-class entertainment.  With its culture of diversity and inclusion, MGM Resorts is an ideal fit for the WNBA.”

She elaborated in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, saying:

Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world. We are a friends and family entertainment option. The WNBA is a women’s professional basketball league, but we are in the entertainment business.

There is tremendous synergy between who we are and what the Las Vegas market offers, particularly in the hands of the MGM team. This is a match made in heaven between the MGM and the WNBA.

MGM is the second gambling company to own a WNBA team. Mohegan Sun owns the Connecticut Sun.

The Stars (let’s assume that the team is keeping its name and doesn’t change to Aces or Gamblers or even Lions in honor of its MGM ownership) will play at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. There are a couple other arenas that might be suitable, namely the T-Mobile Center and Grand Garden Arena, but MGM’s Chief Experience & Marketing Officer Lilian Tomovich told the Review-Journal that Mandalay Bay was chosen mainly because of its size.

“Mandalay Bay is a smaller, more intimate arena with about 12,000 seats,” she said. “We feel it’s the absolute right size arena for the fans to have that intimate experience to come watch basketball.”

The relocation of the Stars continues a pattern of migration of professional sports teams to Las Vegas. The expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL just began their inaugural season in Sin City, the NFL’s Oakland Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas by the year 2020, and the United Soccer League’s Lights FC will also begin play in Vegas next year.

Of course, for decades, the pro sports leagues have protested that sports betting “harms the integrity of the game,” and yes, on rare occasions, it has. There have been point shaving scandals and referring scandals that revolve around players and officials influencing a game in order to either win bets themselves or aid someone else in winning a bet. But those issues are few and far between. Heck, point shaving scandals generally occur in college sports (basketball most specifically), not pro sports. At last check, none of the most infamous sports betting scandals had to do with a team based in Las Vegas.

But the existence or non-existence of the rare scandal has nothing to do with the proximity of a casino to the headquarters or playing of a pro sports team. If a Las Vegas Golden Knight, a Las Vegas Star, or a future Las Vegas Raider wants to bet on his or her own game, why does the player need to be located in Las Vegas? Online gambling exists and though it’s not legal in the U.S., it is still easy enough to access. Phones and other means of communication exist; a player in Texas can call an accomplice in Las Vegas and have them place a bet. Betting can be done through illegal bookmakers (as likely happens in sports betting scandals so as to stay off of the casinos’ radar).

It’s all hypocritical, anyway. Sports leagues – especially the NFL – benefit immensely from sports betting. Traditional sports wagering and fantasy sports get millions more people interested in games than there otherwise would be. My mother-in-law couldn’t care less about basketball, but I’ll guarantee you if I told her that she would win $100 – even $10 – if the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight that she would suddenly have a rooting interest. Teams in every league have sponsorship deals with daily fantasy sports companies and, let’s be honest, DFS is gambling.

So now that there is an NHL team in Las Vegas, an NFL team and USL team on the way, and a WNBA team OWNED by MGM moving there, can the leagues please drop this bullshit line of sports betting getting in the way of the games’ integrity? The NFL, in particular, should take a hard look in the mirror when it comes to crying about integrity. You don’t have to encourage sports betting, but how about just shut up and stop insulting our intelligence?


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