Daniel Negreanu is used to success at the poker table, having collected more than $30 million in lifetime tournament earnings.
But he may soon have the chance to test his mettle in a whole new arena: owning a professional sports team.
According to comments made by Negreanu to the Toronto Sun, the professional poker player is about “99.9 percent” certain that Las Vegas will be chosen as the home of an expansion franchise for the National Hockey League.
Negreanu wouldn’t be the primary owner of the team (even tens of millions in poker winnings isn’t enough to buy a team outright), but he does plan to buy a stake in the team if such a franchise is granted.
“The idea of owning a piece of an NHL team is the coolest thing ever,” Negreanu said.
The team’s most prominent owner would be billionaire Bill Foley, who has become the public face of the ownership group attempting to bring a team to Las Vegas.
But Negreanu has been a major part of promoting the team, particularly during a ticket drive that was designed to show there would be support for a team in a city known for casino gambling and tourism.
“If we sell 10,000 tickets, we’ll be amazed if we don’t get a franchise,” Foley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal back in January. “It would be a shock.”
As it turned out, the drive found even more people willing to plunk down $150 as a down payment on potential season tickets. That’s just one of many factors that have led Negreanu to be so confident about the future of NHL hockey in Las Vegas.
“I just don’t see it not happening,” Negreanu said. “We have a solid owner, an arena, and we sold 13,000 season tickets.”
There are certainly those who bristle at the thought of a hockey team coming to Sin City: after all, the desert isn’t exactly the natural environment for the world’s favorite ice sport.
And sports leagues have traditionally been wary of Las Vegas due to the legal sports betting at casinos throughout the city.
But Negreanu pointed out that Las Vegas has its share of advantages as well.
“Nobody puts on a party or a show better than Vegas,” Negreanu said. “Even people who don’t really love hockey will go for the atmosphere and then we’ll explain what is happening.”
Negreanu also predicted that the team could become a playoff contender “in four or five years,” as free agents might find Las Vegas as a more attractive destination than many other NHL cities.
If Las Vegas is to get an NHL franchise, it could begin playing as early as the 2016-2017 season, though the year after that might be a more realistic time frame.
The Las Vegas bid from Foley and another one in Quebec City led by telecommunications firm Quebecor are the only two potential expansion franchises being seriously considered by the NHL.
However, that doesn’t mean that these teams are guaranteed to be fighting for the Stanley Cup anytime soon. While the NHL only has 14 teams in its Western Conference (as opposed to 16 in the Eastern Conference), there is still no guarantee that the league will choose to expand in the near future.