- Las Vegas has historically not been considered to host NCAA Championship events due to the state’s legal sports betting.
- That position became legally dubious when the Supreme Court overturned PASPA on May 14, 2018.
- Las Vegas has venues for not only major sports like football but other events like hockey, golf and wrestling.
The world has really changed in the past couple of years and particularly as it relates to sports betting. It wasn’t that long ago that the state of Nevada was persona non grata in the eyes of ‘legitimate’ sports due to the presence of legal betting in the state. That all changed in 2018 when the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and it immediately became legally untenable for big time sports to discriminate against Las Vegas and Nevada any longer.
It actually started to change before that with the success of the NHL Vegas Golden Knights being the most notable example. More recently, the legacy sports leagues at the professional and college level got a whiff of the revenue potential that betting represents. The pro leagues have already gone ‘all in’ on betting and the college level isn’t far behind. In May, 2019 the NCAA announced that it will permit states that have legal sports betting to hold championship events.
At that time, the city of Las Vegas started to lay the groundwork to host NCAA Championship events. It’s a win/win situation for everyone: Las Vegas might have better infrastructure to host major events than any city in the country and more visitors to town means more revenue. UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois immediately started working with Las Vegas Events and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to start the bidding process:
“In working alongside local and regional leaders, we will put together attractive and competitive bids so that our UNLV student-athletes will now have a chance to compete in NCAA postseason events here at home.”
The Las Vegas Review Journal reported that the city is looking to host a multitude of NCAA sports events:
MGM Resorts partnered with UNLV to apply for the 2023 and 2026 men’s basketball regionals and NCAA wrestling championships and collaborated with Las Vegas Events for the 2023 and 2026 Frozen Fours, which is hockey’s championship. If awarded, those events would take place at T-Mobile Arena.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority applied for multiple events from Division I to Division III between 2022 and 2026 to be held at venues throughout the valley.
Lisa Motley, LVCVA director of sports marketing and special events, says that Las Vegas is looking to make a statement quickly:
“We were going to go for broke. It was the first time we were able to put bids into the NCAA, and we’re serious about being the home for NCAA championships. We want those marquee events like the Final Four and the Frozen Four. We have to crawl, walk, run and prove to the NCAA that we can put on these marquee events.”
George Kliavkoff, MGM president of entertainment & sports, says the ultimate goal is to bid on a NCAA basketball Final Four and a national football championship to be played at Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the NFL Las Vegas Raiders:
“I think it’s consistent with our belief that sometime in the near future Allegiant Stadium is going to have the opportunity to bid on a Final Four and a national football championship. I don’t take for granted that we’re going to win any of the bids. I think we’re a very compelling choice because of the facilities we have and because of the unique nature of Las Vegas.”
There are a couple of things working against Las Vegas, not the least of which is an anti-West Coast bias by the NCAA. The ‘Frozen Four’ hockey finals haven’t been played West of the Mississippi since they were held in Denver in 2008. The NCAA Wrestling Finals haven’t been held in the Mountain Time Zone since they were in Tucson, Arizona in 1976. LVE president Pat Christenson was extremely diplomatic in his assessment:
“They stay in the belts where you have most of the fans. I think Vegas is an opportunity for them to break out of that mold because there’s no real question about whether we would sell all the tickets in either of them.”
All told, the LVCVA turned in 98 applications including bids on the same event in multiple years. Sports that were bid include basketball, golf, gymnastics and tennis along with baseball, softball and soccer.