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MGM Resorts looking to host fanless NBA games in Las Vegas

Updated May 2, 2020 - 6:49 pm

With major professional sports on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, rumblings of sporting events resuming with Las Vegas as the host city are getting louder.

MGM Resorts acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle said in the company’s first quarter earnings call Thursday that the casino giant has been in talks with various sports leagues about hosting games without fans at their facilities.

“We have been in dialogue with leagues and other sporting activities around televised-only events,” Hornbuckle said. “Boxing, MMA, NBA, NHL, etc. We can host some of that. We’re working diligently … to do that.”

MGM Resorts has more than a dozen resorts under its Las Vegas umbrella, most with event and convention centers where such events could take place.

“We have been approached by multiple properties regarding potential options for hosting NBA games, including MGM,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said Saturday. ”We have not engaged in any substantive discussions.”

Finishing out the season in Las Vegas is one of many possibilities being discussed, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday, but the NHL isn’t ready to make a decision. “We are still evaluating all of our options,” he said.

MGM officials declined Saturday to comment further, citing their policy of not commenting on rumors or speculation. Representatives from the WNBA, MMA and Major League Soccer were not available for comment. All have said they were exploring all options to resume play but that they were not close to making any decisions, given the fluid nature of the situation.

Todd duBoef, president of Las Vegas boxing promotional company Top Rank Inc., confirmed Saturday that his group has had talks with MGM about hosting boxing matches without fans.

“Yeah, we’ve had many discussions with them,” duBoef said, who said those talks appear to have been fruitful.

“It looks like it’s going to become a reality,” he said. “Doing fights out of Las Vegas from a fixed location for an extended period of time without fans as the first step.”

With Top Rank and others still awaiting directions from state and local leaders as well as the Nevada Athletic Commission, the details are still being developed as to how the fights would take place.

“We’re working hand in hand with the (state coronavirus) task force, as they’re spearheading the protocol that’s going to be set up,” duBoef said. “It’s a little premature, but we want to be ready to go when the city is ready to open up. … We want to work hand in hand with the regulators and the governor’s office.”

A proposal sent to the NBA and WNBA, which The New York Times reviewed, revealed MGM’s plan for hosting the leagues in Las Vegas. The plan would essentially occupy one full block of the Strip, where players would stay and compete.

According to The Times, the players would be allowed to have their families with them. League and broadcast media employees would be on hand as well. All would have access to the amenities one would expect from a Las Vegas trip, including gambling.

The centerpiece of MGM’s NBA proposal is Mandalay Bay, which has 4,700 rooms when the connected Four Seasons and Delano are included. The setup also is connected by an enclosed walkway to the Luxor hotel, which is where MGM service staff such as housekeepers and caterers would live.

The Times reported 24 basketball courts could be built in the Mandalay Bay’s convention center, which spans 2.1 million gross square feet. Five of the courts would be used for televised games, with the remaining courts utilized for practice.

The NBA has experience carrying out such an event. Its annual G League Winter Showcase has been held at Mandalay Bay Convention Center the past two Decembers. The games are held to showcase players in the NBA’s developmental league and are played without fans and are broadcast on TV and online.

The Thomas &Mack Center at UNLV, which hosts the NBA’s annual summer league, was also mentioned as accessible by MGM, according to the Times report.

MGM’s proposal to the NBA also included extensive health and safety procedures, but wasn’t fully laid out. Anyone entering any resort or facility in use for the games would have to agree to health, safety and quarantine protocols, requiring them to remain in the integrated resort for their entire stay.

MGM hired a health and safety consultant as an adviser to its plan and said it would provide all necessary medical testing equipment, according to the Times report.

Review-Journal staff writer David Schoen contributed to this report. Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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