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Las Vegas’ future as NBA city stays on hold

NEW YORK — Las Vegas’ future as an NBA city remained in a holding pattern as the league’s Board of Governors on Thursday decided to continue monitoring developments on a new arena.

Following the meeting, NBA commissioner David Stern said the report by a seven-member owners committee that has studied Las Vegas’ viability the past five months indicated that if an NBA-quality arena were built, it would enhance the city’s chances. Stern was quick to point out there are no immediate plans to expand and didn’t promise Las Vegas would be first in line for an expansion team.

“The report was generally positive,” Stern said at a news conference at the St. Regis Hotel. “We looked at various arena sites, there are several prospective owners for a Las Vegas franchise, and we’re talking to a lot of people. … The committee will continue to talk to people, evaluate the situation and not draw any lines in the sand in terms of a stance.”

Goodman said the positive report was encouraging.

“At this point, it’s the most optimistic news there can be,” Goodman said. “There’s no arena yet, so there’s no way the NBA would commit (to Las Vegas). But I think the door is very wide open, the sunlight is shining in, and I think a flower will eventually blossom.

“(Stern) speaks so glowingly of our city. I believe one day we’ll have a (NBA) team.”

With two potential arenas being discussed but no construction under way, Stern said the league needs to take a wait-and-see attitude. Phoenix Suns chairman Robert Sarver heads the Las Vegas committee, which includes Portland’s Paul Allen, Toronto’s Lawrence Tannenbaum, Miami’s Micky Arison, Indiana’s Herb Simon, Atlanta’s Bruce Levinson and New Jersey’s Lewis Katz.

The committee was formed in April after the league received and reviewed a proposal from Goodman regarding legalized gambling on NBA games in Nevada sports books. Goodman said that while he would welcome the NBA to Las Vegas, he would not ask the sports books to take NBA games off the betting boards.

On Thursday, there was no decision from the league to ask Goodman to reconsider. It appears if the NBA wants to put a team in Las Vegas someday, it will be with the understanding that legalized wagering on its games will continue.

Stern remains uncomfortable with that position, but ultimately, the owners will decide if Las Vegas has an NBA future. In the meantime, the league will maintain its presence in the city. The NBA Vegas Summer League will continue, and Las Vegas will continue to host preseason games.

But the key to the city’s NBA future is an arena. The proposed 20,000-seat arena to be built by Anschutz Entertainment Group behind Bally’s at Koval Lane and East Flamingo Road remains on track for a June 2008 groundbreaking. The arena, which is expected to cost $500 million to build and is 100 percent privately financed, is scheduled to open in September 2010.

REI Neon also is planning to build a downtown arena near Main Street and East Charleston Boulevard as part of a $10.5 billion development project. No plans for starting construction on the arena portion of the project have been announced, though REI hopes to have the building open in 2010 as well.

“We have relationships with both groups,” Stern said of AEG and REI Neon.

Should the NBA decide to expand or relocate to Las Vegas, it might have competition. The NHL also is eyeing the city and the AEG site for locating a team, possibly for 2010, and there reportedly have been ongoing discussions between the NHL and a group headed by television and movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer about a possible Las Vegas franchise.

“We’re not in any rush,” Stern said of beating the NHL to Las Vegas. “We don’t have to be first.”

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

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