TORONTO (AP) — Canadian poker star Daniel Negreanu knows a thing or two about odds. And the Toronto native and lifelong hockey fan likes Las Vegas' chances of getting an NHL team.
Prospective owner Bill Foley and his company, Hockey Vision Las Vegas LLC, get to prove it beginning Tuesday when the VegasWantsHockey season-ticket drive begins. The goal is to get at least 10,000 full-season deposits to show there's significant interest in an expansion team starting in the 2016-'17 season.
Negreanu is part of the "Founding 75," a group of locals helping sell NHL hockey to those in Las Vegas and surrounding areas. He has his four season tickets reserved and has already sold plenty of others.
"The town's starving, absolutely starving, for a professional sports franchise," Negreanu told The Canadian Press by phone recently from Las Vegas. "I've found the support to be overwhelming. People that live here, they're dying for this."
Sufficient commitment by fans would answer the league's biggest question about what Commissioner Gary Bettman calls a "unique market." Las Vegas runs on tourism and has a transient population. There is no long-term hockey tradition and no track record of support for a major professional sports team.
A well-funded and strong ownership group is in place, led by Foley and brothers Joe and Gavin Maloof. An arena that will seat 17,500 for hockey is to be completed by the spring of 2016. The next step is to gauge fan interest.
Bettman is expected in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Ticket prices are expected to be on par with the NHL average in two seasons. Negreanu believes the season-ticket drive could turn up 12,500 to 13,000 deposits.
"We're going to know early on," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said during all-star weekend in Columbus, Ohio. "It's not going to be one of those things where at the end of a 45-day period, 'Get your orders in so we can get an NHL franchise.' We're going to know early on whether this is something that people are embracing."
Bettman said in Columbus that if the ticket drive "shows a great deal of enthusiasm in two or three weeks" the league will have a better sense of the market. The commissioner, however, reiterated that no measure of success forces the NHL to expand to Las Vegas.