Before the announcement of the Golden Knights in 2016, professional sports seemed like a long shot in Las Vegas. Baseless theories of legal, local gambling influencing the outcome of games were used as excuses. When in reality, the thought of millionaire athletes risking their careers and future contracts to fix one game is, and was always, far-fetched.
Rewind five years, surprising to some the NHL took the risk and became the first league to crack the Las Vegas market. However, as revealed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman the NHL is still concerned with gambling and the integrity of the game but has nothing to do with Nevada. The league proved that last week when they harshly punished veteran official Tim Peel. The last thing the NHL could afford was a corrupt official like infamous NBA referee Tim Donaghy.
There were deep conversations about how damaging it is to your league during a crisis of consumer confidence. The CBA between the NHL and its officials now contains specific code-of-conduct references: ‘Each official agrees to abstain from habits of intemperance, gambling, immorality or other conduct likely to bring himself and/or the NHL and/or the game of Hockey into disrepute or which results in the impairment of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of NHL games or the integrity and good character of its officials.’ -Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts on Sportsnet
Last week the NHL quickly nipped a potential controversy in the bud when the official’s hot mic became a major story.
Initially, the story had absolutely nothing to do with gambling, but because of past issues in other sports, the NHL made a tough stand to ensure fans their product is genuine. Without transparency, gambling on hockey could be eliminated, and sadly to say, the interest in the sport would decrease significantly, not to mention millions in lost endorsement money for the league.
If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Michael Leboff, a longtime Islanders fan who is senior editor at The Action Network…
“When it happened, my boss told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to need to do a newser on this — it’s definitely a thing,” Leboff said. “They wanted to know what Tim Peel’s history was. No matter how you shake it, this is a gambling story.” –Friedman, 31 Thoughts on Sportsnet
It was proven that there was nothing sinister with Peel’s history and it was just a major lapse in judgment. Although, it was an immediate concern surrounding the sports gambling industry and the NHL. To their credit, the NHL is no longer concerned with players fixing games, nor should they be about officiating compromising the outcome. One thing is for certain, the league is still not fully comfortable with legal gambling.
It’s no longer about Las Vegas, the Golden Knights or even the Raiders.
As puritan North America finally clues into the fact everyone else in the world embraces gambling, it will be critical to rebuilding the NHL’s economic structure in the post-pandemic world. You can’t have people like (Chad) Millman and (Darren) Rovell questioning your integrity in that space. You just can’t. So when you ask me why I think the NHL acted so swiftly, this is it. –Friedman, 31 Thoughts on Sportsnet
Good on the NHL for their quick reaction and protecting their product. It goes to show the progression in how the league views legal gambling. Not only has the 31st franchise broken down barriers but they’ve been very, very fruitful to the league. Without the Vegas franchise, the NHL’s valuation undoubtedly drops.
Lastly, the Golden Knights have proven the stone-aged doubters wrong, and given confidence to other leagues that teams can succeed in Las Vegas without impacting the integrity of the game.
It ended up being a two-team parlay winner for professional sports.