If I'm betting right now on a Penguins' final destination against pro sports' tendency to expand, I'm making Vegas an even-money proposition.
It's a hunch, but let's look at Las Vegas:
. . . the 29th largest city in the United States in 2000, but recent estimates suggest that the city's population has since surpassed that of Atlanta, Nashville, Washington, D.C., Louisville, Denver and Boston to place it 22nd in rank. It is likely to surpass Milwaukee and possibly a few other cities to reach the top 20 by the time of the 2010 Census.
Bigger than Milwaukee! Yowsa!
The gambling question has always made the proprietors of pro leagues look away from Vegas, but in recent years their cool sanctimony has withered under the changing climate. The NBA will hold its All-Star Weekend in Vegas in '07 (if only to ensure the likelihood everyone shows up for media day and indeed, the game itself, all-star games being the most overrated and bloated non-events on the calendar there is, in any sport). Casinos are a part of the landscape now, and indeed all three slots emporiums in the running for a Pennsylvania gambling license include to varying degrees a Penguins home in their pitches - the winner will be determined in a critical gaming board decision Wednesday (and for the latest on the boondoggle beat, always check in on Field of Schemes). The WNBA put a team in a casino, for heaven's sake (like the 07 NBA all-stars, no betting is allowed on games). And let's just raise a glass and leave it at that for the debt the NFL owes to Vegas sports books that are packed to the gills every Sunday afternoon.
This is not something that can be called an ill-conceived, doomed notion borne out of desparation, and it has nothing to do with sanctimony: If the NHL doesn't get there first, someone else will, and soon. Just a hunch, but I reckon the thought has done a lot more than crossed Gary Bettman's mind. It'll happen. Far greater hockey minds than this one are touting Kansas City, for one, if the Penguins do up and move. But Vegas, and a major pro franchise? It's just a question of when.