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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred calls Las Vegas ‘viable’ market

Updated February 21, 2017 - 6:43 pm

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that Las Vegas might be considered for a franchise in the future, an about-face from his predecessor.

“Las Vegas could be a viable market for us,” Manfred said during his Cactus League news conference in Phoenix. “… I don’t think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city.”

He recently had said the league was “re-examining” its stance on gambling.

Bud Selig, who preceded Manfred as commissioner, was sharply opposed to the idea of placing a MLB franchise in Las Vegas. About four years ago, Selig said during testimony for a New Jersey betting case that MLB would “never have a franchise in Las Vegas.”

Manfred’s comment represents a continued shift in opinion toward Las Vegas from professional leagues. The NHL will begin its first season in Las Vegas with the Golden Knights this year, and the Oakland Raiders have filed for relocation with the NFL to the city.

Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay wholeheartedly agrees.

“Those comments show you how much the climate has changed in recent years towards Las Vegas and the whole sports gambling industry,” he said. “Led by (NBA commissioner Adam) Silver and now Manfred, I think they’ve come to realize that sports gambling is taking place everywhere and that Nevada represents only three percent of everything that’s wagered in this country.

“If it’s regulated and policed like it is here in the state of Nevada, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. We’ve taken bets on our college teams for 16-plus years now and there haven’t been any issues.”

Las Vegas 51s president Don Logan also noted the “paradigm shift,” in the way gaming is viewed and said that was in part due to its spread around the country.

“It’s not just a bunch of guys with visors in a smoke-filled room trying to get all the money out of your pockets,” Logan said. “It’s a legitimate business that’s multi-faceted and I think that commissioner Manfred has a better understanding of what gaming really is.

“The other part of it is if you wanted the most regulated gaming in the world, (it’s) here in Las Vegas.”

Logan’s 51s, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, are the longest-running professional team in the state and will begin their 35th season of play in April.

“I’ve always been bullish on baseball. The summer is a slower time here so there’s more availability in hotels,” he said. “There’s a lot about baseball that makes sense for Las Vegas but there’s a lot to be done.”

When four-time National League batting champion and longtime Henderson resident Bill Madlock was asked about the possibility of Las Vegas hosting a major league team, he began to chuckle.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be that way,” he said. “In most cities, people work 9 to 5, and you can pick up the kids and go to a ballgame. How many shifts do we have here? You can’t do that here.

“With the NBA, you have 41 (home) games; hockey, 41 games. In baseball, you have to support 81 games. That’s a lot of games compared to the other sports.”

While certainly nothing would be imminent in regards to a MLB team in Las Vegas, Tony Clark, the head of the MLB Players Association recently said they were “very interested to see if the longtime historical position of our industry is changing,” in regards to Las Vegas, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

Manfred has said in the past that he would be open to expansion, though MLB has not announced any formal plans. However, two teams — the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays — have serious stadium issues.

The Athletics are trying to leave the same stadium as the Raiders in Oakland and the Rays’ Tropicana Field has been criticized as a baseball facility since it opened in 1998.

Meanwhile, the 51s will continue their pursuit of a new Triple-A stadium in the city. The 51s averaged 4,882 fans per game last season, 14th of 16 teams in the Pacific Coast League, and have repeatedly expressed their desire to move from downtown Cashman Field to a brand new stadium in Summerlin.

“You can’t react to speculation,” Logan said. “You’ve got to just deal with what you know you have and I think we’re going to just continue on that path.”

Contact Betsy Helfand at bhelfand@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.

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