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Say hello to curling, the next competitive sport in Las Vegas

Updated April 28, 2024 - 9:47 am

It’s easy to forget that Las Vegas’ claim as the sports capital of the world isn’t just about spectator sports.

Because they command such a high profile and attract thousands of visitors at a time, professional sports are always in the local spotlight for NFL football, NHL hockey, NASCAR, rodeo, professional boxing and mixed martial arts. And big events such as the Super Bowl, Formula One and Final Four college basketball draw additional attention to the city.

But participant sporting events produce their own share of visitation to Las Vegas. The biggest high-profile participant event is the Rock ’n’ Roll Running Series race on the Strip in February. But year round, there are dozens of competitions for basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer and other events.

Many of them involve youth sports, so you will see parents of participants purchasing hotel rooms and meals and contributing millions of dollars to the local economy. Multiply that by hundreds of participants, and you can see why Las Vegas is uniquely equipped to handle a high volume of competitors.

Curling facility arrives

On deck as the next competitive sport for Las Vegas: curling.

Yes, curling, the wacky winter sport that captured the hearts and minds of Winter Olympics fans who watched Team USA win the gold medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

Through an unusual series of events, Las Vegas became a hub for the sport in the mid-2010s. On Thursday, CurlVegas, a nonprofit curling club, will cut the ribbon for a 13,565-square-foot curling venue near Sunset Park at 3525 E. Post Road. A public open house is planned from 2-4 p.m. May 5, where people can get a close-up look at the sport and how it’s played.

How did this unusual sport — played with 42-pound granite curling stones slid on 150-foot ice sheets by curlers who alter the velocity and direction of a stone’s throw with brooms or brushes — land in Las Vegas?

The local popularity had roots in Northern Nevada and a genealogical trail that extends to 16th-century Scotland.

The Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition formed in 2003 with a goal of bringing the Winter Olympics to the Lake Tahoe region. The Games were staged in Squaw Valley, California, near Lake Tahoe in 1960, and proposals were developed to bring the Olympics back to the region with Reno as the host city.

‘A leap of faith’

When Brian Krolicki — currently a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission — was elected lieutenant governor in 2006, the Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition was picking up steam to develop a host bid. As lieutenant governor, he chaired the Nevada Commission on Tourism and recognized the economic impact staging the Olympics could have on the state.

While resorts around Lake Tahoe and the hilly terrain would be ideal for skiing and bobsled events and an arena in Sacramento, California, was eyeballed for skating, options were open for curling.

An idea was presented that Las Vegas, with its magnificent tourism infrastructure, could serve as a host for the sport.

Specifically it was suggested that Boyd Gaming, which operated the Orleans Arena — before T-Mobile Arena was built and opened — could host curling.

In 2014, the Continental Cup — a curling competition similar to golf’s Ryder Cup featuring teams from North America against the world — was first staged in the United States at The Orleans.

“The competition lasted a week and produced some tremendous tourism success and for Boyd; they took a leap of faith with us to do this,” Krolicki said in an interview.

Success for Boyd

Skeptical Boyd executives had no idea whether hosting the event would be successful.

It turned out it was.

After accommodating thousands of Canadian curling fans delighted with the opportunity to enjoy everything Las Vegas had to offer, Boyd properties filled up during the Cup competition. The Continental Cup was brought back to the Orleans in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

The LGT World Men’s Curling Championships also were brought to the property in 2022.

“No one had any idea how many rooms we would need and we ended up filling their hotel and backup hotels and I think it became the second largest event on the Boyd calendar,” said Krolicki, who got hooked on curling during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Reno-Tahoe never got the opportunity to bid for the Olympic Games because the U.S. Olympic Committee was focused more on bidding for the Summer Games, which will pay off when Los Angeles hosts them in 2028.

Brad Whitlock, the president of CurlVegas, got his first exposure to curling during the Vancouver Olympics.

“My wife said, ‘You seem really interested in that.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s just fascinating to me. I can’t figure out how they score. What are they doing, why are they yelling at each other, what’s going on?’”

His wife signed him up for a curling lesson at a local club, and as he learned more about the sport, he was hooked.

Whitlock said CurlVegas got serious about developing its own facility in 2019, incorporated in 2020 and sought out financial help and labor to build the new facility, which includes sheets of pebbled ice that work best for sliding curling stones.

A bagpiper will be part of Thursday’s festivities, and Krolicki and Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition CEO Jon Killoran hope to be there.

While there isn’t an abundance of seating capacity at the facility, Whitlock is confident that it will become a new venue for competitive participation sports that will draw visitors from around the world.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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