Gaughan sees major problem


Michael Gaughan is 66 years old, but his memory remains sharp, especially when it comes to Las Vegas and its failed pro sports ventures.

The former Coast Casinos boss and current head of the South Point doesn't think the town is ready to support a major league franchise, and he's not sure it ever will be.

"I don't think we'll see it. I don't know what pro team would come here. And where would they play?" said Gaughan, who will be inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame tonight at the Orleans Arena along with former UNLV basketball star Robert Smith, former distance runner Frank Plasso Jr., longtime high school wrestling coach Jimmy May and the National Finals Rodeo, an entity that Gaughan helped bring to Las Vegas 25 years ago.

The lack of a suitable venue, Gaughan said, is the biggest obstacle in Las Vegas' pursuit of a major league franchise. Attempts to build a 21st-century arena have stalled and, given the economic downturn, it will be hard to find financing.

"If the NBA were to come, you'd have to build an arena with at least 18,000 seats," Gaughan said. "When I built the Orleans Arena ... it cost me $62 million. Originally, it was supposed to be $50 million. To build an arena for an NBA team will cost a heck of a lot more. Who's going to invest that kind of money? Especially in this (economic) climate? How do you get a return on it?"

Although Las Vegas has grown tremendously, locals still have plenty of options for spending discretionary income.

"There's too many things to do here," Gaughan said. "Look at the (Triple-A 51s) baseball team. Since the baseball team has been here, which is 25 years ago, they still get 5,000 people even though the population has quadrupled in the time they've been here."

The Wranglers hockey team has been successful on the ice, but that hasn't translated into huge crowds at the Orleans Arena.

"I thought they'd be packing them in," Gaughan said. "It's Double-A hockey, but they're reasonably priced. The product has been good. Maybe we only have so many hockey fans here.

"I remember the soccer team (the Quicksilvers, who played in the North American Soccer League in 1977) when Pele came in from New York to play them. That was the only time they drew a crowd. The indoor soccer team (the 1994-95 Las Vegas Dustdevils) won the championship, and nobody went.

"I thought the CFL was pretty good football," he said, referring to the Posse's lone season at Sam Boyd Stadium, in 1994. "I went to the first game when a horse (went to the bathroom) on the field. That wasn't a good sign."

While many pro sports franchises have failed here, several special events have been successful, most notably NASCAR weekend, the NFR, the Professional Bull Riders, various college basketball postseason tournaments, the high school summer basketball tournaments and the NBA Summer League.

But Gaughan said the best thing Las Vegas ever did was lure the NFR from Oklahoma City in 1985.

"The rodeo has done more for this town than any other event," he said. "It filled a huge void for the hotels in December."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

 

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