WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces Could Struggle for City’s Attention, Wagers

Once a sports desert, Las Vegas is finding itself suddenly flooded with professional sports teams. In a city now with an NHL franchise, and soon an NFL team, the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces will join the mix having to battle for fans, but maybe not for bettors as owners MGM Resorts announced last week that they wouldn’t be accepting wagers on the newest local team at their 10 casino sportsbooks.

Las Vegas Aces welcome party

Members of the Vegas Golden Knights attended a welcome party for the newest pro athletes in town, the Las Vegas Aces. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The practice of limiting bets on teams with a vested interests in casinos has been standard practice to stay in good graces with the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Caesars Entertainment properties, for example, do not take bets on the NBA’s Boston Celtics because company Chairman Gary Loveman has an ownership interest in the team. The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas won’t take wagers on the Houston Rockets now that Tilman Fertitta owns both the casino and the team.

MGM Resorts sportsbook director Jay Rood told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that they are considering not accepting bets on any of the women’s professional basketball teams, as a simple business decision, as there seldom is much interest.

“When I say pretty light, I mean almost nonexistent,” Rood said. “We might just absolutely eliminate [the WNBA] from our offerings at this point. In the big scope of things, it’s really very, very small from a handle and win-loss perspective. The handle for the entire year in the WNBA is probably less than what we do on a really good NFL game.”

Gambling on Women’s Sports

Since its inception in 1996, the WNBA has struggled financially, though its monetary fortunes have improved in recent years. The league had been kept alive by the NBA, spending $10 million a year to keep it from folding. By 2013, however, half of the teams were reporting a profit.

The Aces will be the third of 12 teams to have a gambling association. The New York Liberty are sponsored by Draft Kings, the daily fantasy sports giant, and were formerly associated with Foxwoods Casino. The Phoenix Mercury signed a deal with Casino Arizona three years ago.

Attendance has always been an issue, but that appears to be improving. In 2017, WNBA attendance averaged 7,716 per game, its most since 2011. The Aces, previously the San Antonio Stars, were one of the worst teams in the league last year, but still drew about 6,000 fans to each game.

In 2015, they had a total attendance of 80,766 for 34 games. By comparison, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders will seat 65,000 and is expected to be filled to capacity for its eight home games in 2020. The Vegas Golden Knights play at T-Mobile Arena and have had approximately 18,000 for every one of its 15 home games so far in its inaugural season.

Home Team Hoops

The Aces will play in the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center, which is known more for concerts than sporting events. The next WNBA season begins in May and ends in September.

“An Ace is their name, and an ace signifies that you’re the best, you’re at the top of the game of whatever you’re trying to do,” WNBA President Lisa Borders told the Review-Journal. “That’s who MGM is. I think they’re going to pull that value and bring that to life with this team.”

MGM welcomed the new home team, and newest addition to an expanding Las Vegas sports scene, earlier in December at the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay.

Amid confetti and Cirque de Soleil performers, the message was that the city was ready to embrace team, and embrace the women’s game. Even if you can’t bet on the Las Vegas Aces.

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