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NCAA ends ban, paves way for Las Vegas to host title events

Updated May 3, 2019 - 8:38 pm

Las Vegas took one step closer Friday to landing major college postseason events such as the Final Four men’s basketball tournament and the College Football Playoff National Championship.

The NCAA announced it will now permit states that have legal sports wagering to host championship events, a policy change that seemed inevitable since last year’s Supreme Court decision that allowed sports betting to go beyond Nevada.

That means Las Vegas can begin bidding for these events later this year and could see major sporting championships and regional events here within five years. That will add to the sports cache that already has seen the area add the NFL Raiders, the NHL Golden Knights, the WNBA Aces, a new Triple-A baseball ballpark and other events like the NFL draft.

As soon as this summer, UNLV, Las Vegas Events and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority can jointly bid to host NCAA championships beginning with the 2022-23 academic year probably through 2026-2027. Such events would inject millions of dollars into the Las Vegas economy. One study said the 2017 Final Four had a $324 million impact on Phoenix.

“In working alongside local and regional leaders, we will put together attractive and competitive bids so that our UNLV student-athletes will now have a chance to compete in NCAA postseason events here at home,” said UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, whose university would serve as the host school for these championships.

The LVCVA did not return calls for comment.

The ban was partially lifted last May, a day after the Supreme Court decided to allow states to determine if they allowed sports gaming.

“The (NCAA Board of Governors) also reinforced its support for federal legislative sports wagering standards,” the NCAA said in a statement after the decision late Thursday.

In March, the NCAA policy was effectively rendered moot when Mississippi State University hosted NCAA women’s basketball tournament games. Mississippi began allowing sports betting last summer.

Work started in 2011

Former UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood has been working on overturning the ban since 2011, and he made a pitch to NCAA members at the 2012 men’s basketball Final Four in New Orleans as part of that effort.

“That’s a huge announcement today,” Livengood said Friday. “We knew it was coming, so it wasn’t an ‘if,’ it was a ‘when.’”

Livengood, who has been involved in the bid process, didn’t name which events could be proposed, but a men’s basketball regional or Final Four, a football semifinal or championship game and an NCAA wrestling tournament are expected to be considered. Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has said he would like to see hockey’s Frozen Four played at T-Mobile Arena.

The NCAA will later announce the host sites for each event and for which years — multiple sites for regionals and single sites for championships — based on a myriad of factors.

“A lot of infrastructure is needed,” Livengood said. “(The bid schedule) gives more time to do more planning, better planning.”

Livengood also said a championship event might one day find a permanent home in Las Vegas, and the idea of hosting the entire women’s basketball Sweet 16 at a Las Vegas arena over a week’s time has been floated.

UNLV acting president Marta Meana said, “The addition of NCAA championships would be a natural fit.”

Rebels football coach Tony Sanchez said the many years Las Vegas has hosted conference basketball tournaments, including the Mountain West and Pac-12, proved the NCAA should bring its most prestigious events here.

“We were all hoping it was coming for the city,” Sanchez said. “Now with sports betting being legalized in a lot of different places, I think it was inevitable.”

UNLV men’s basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger said the presence of not only UNLV, but also the Knights, Aces and, beginning next year, the Raiders show that Southern Nevada can support various sporting events.

“I think Las Vegas is a phenomenal sports town,” Otzelberger said. “So to have that opportunity from a basketball standpoint (to be a host) as a possibility moving forward, it’s awesome. I think our fans and the community deserve it. It’s something we’ll really embrace.”

Casinos can profit

Local sportsbooks also figure to receive a wagering boost when major events are played in Las Vegas.

“It’s going to bring a ton of revenue to the city,” Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said. “Fans are going to flock to Las Vegas to see their teams play here. For college basketball, right now they only do the NCAA West Regional final at the Staples Center (in Los Angeles) or Anaheim (California). I think you’ll start seeing T-Mobile Arena get into that rotation.

“There are a ton of good things that will come out of this. They can do all kinds of events here. It’s going to be great for Las Vegas.”

Added Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito: “When we have any sporting events in town — a title fight, the UFC, the Golden Knights and college basketball tournaments — we always see a rise in handle when those events are in our backyard.

“When you take it a step further with the Final Four or (football) national championship game here, we’d have the potential for a record handle.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Todd Dewey contributed to this report.

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Las Vegas handicapper Bruce Marshall is an analyst at VegasInsider.com. Each week, he provides the Review-Journal with NFL tech notes and trends.