The possibility of sanctioned NCAA events being held in Las Vegas took a potentially huge leap Tuesday when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a controversial New Jersey gaming case.
The NCAA is among the plaintiffs fighting a New Jersey law passed in 2012 that would allow sports gambling in the state. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, as well as the Department of Justice, have sued arguing continued implementation of the 25-year-old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
PASPA was passed in 1992 to halt the spread of sports betting in the country. Such action is banned nationwide except for Nevada, which was "grandfathered" an exemption. Delaware, Oregon and Montana have the option of limited sports betting.
The Supreme Court could hear arguments as early as this fall, according to reports.
The NCAA has placed only one championship event in Nevada (1991 women's basketball West Regional) citing sports gambling concerns.
"This is more than huge," former UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood said of the Supreme Court's consideration. "This opens up all kinds of possibilities."
Livengood is now a consultant for Las Vegas Events, a management company interested in bringing events to the city.
The NCAA was thought to be moving toward allowing events in Nevada but was stymied by the New Jersey battle. In other words, the optics would be bad if the association was suing New Jersey while cozying up to allowing games in Nevada/Las Vegas.
In December 2015, NCAA president Mark Emmert referred to "what often seems to be a hypocritical stance" by the association regarding Las Vegas. Eleven states have legalized daily fantasy sports betting, which the NCAA has defined as sports betting. The NCAA has staged or will stage championship events in at least four of those states, including its home state of Indiana.
In April, the NCAA Board of Governors didn't act on a proposal from UNLV and the Mountain West Conference to stage three NCAA championship events from 2019-22. The next window for Nevada/Las Vegas seems to be 2022 at the earliest. However, Livengood said, with a favorable Supreme Court ruling, Las Vegas could be available to events that have to be relocated on short notice.
This year, the NCAA moved a first-round NCAA Tournament site from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Greenville, South Carolina, because of the controversial HB2 law. Public universities in California are now banned from traveling to at least four states that have anti-LGBT laws.
"You could ask Las Vegas to step in and take these games," Livengood said.
The NCAA and pro leagues sued New Jersey and Governor Chris Christie in 2012 after voters overwhelmingly approved Las Vegas-style sports better in Jersey racetracks and casinos.
Three circuit court votes in the states have sided with the NCAA and pro leagues.
Four conferences (Pac-12, Mountain West, WAC, WCC) stage their basketball tournaments in Las Vegas. UNLV and Duke played a nonconference basketball game in December at new T-Mobile Arena. The NCAA does not govern those events.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL begin play this fall as the city's first major professional sports franchise. The Oakland Raiders are moving to Vegas in 2020.
The American Gaming Association issued a statement Tuesday supporting the Supreme Court hearing: "[PASPA] … has failed to protect sports and fans. PASPA … is fueling an unregulated $150 billion illegal gambling market."