The NHL is making a big bet on Las Vegas. The league will expand to Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season after awarding its 31st franchise to billionaire businessman Bill Foley on Wednesday, the AP reports. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the decision after the league's board of governors met on a 109-degree day and unanimously voted to put an ice hockey team in the Mojave Desert's gambling mecca. "We think this is a tremendously exciting opportunity, not just for Las Vegas, but for the league as well," Bettman said, calling Las Vegas "a vibrant, growing, global destination city." Foley will pay $500 million to the NHL's other owners as an expansion fee. The new team will play in T-Mobile Arena, the $375 million building that opened just off the Las Vegas Strip in April.
The NHL is expanding for the first time since 2000, when Minnesota and Columbus each paid $80 million to join the league. With nearly 2.2 million people in the last census, Las Vegas is the largest population center in the US without a team in the major professional sports. Vegas was an economic boomtown in the previous decade, and the NHL is betting that its slowed growth hasn't curbed the city's appetite for sports and spectacles. The new franchise will be stocked by an expansion draft that will be more favorable than previous drafts, theoretically allowing the Vegas franchise to become competitive more quickly. They'll play in the Pacific Division, the home of the league's three California teams and the Arizona Coyotes. (Read more NHL stories.)