Daniel Negreanu (Photo by Neil Stoddart)
Bill Foley may be the owner of the prospective franchise in Las Vegas, but it's poker star Daniel Negreanu who is helping lead the charge as Sin City attempts to land its first professional sports franchise. The Toronto native was part of the founding group that helped Las Vegas in their ticket drive.
By Sean Chaffin
For more than a decade, Daniel Negreanu has been the face of poker. With an arsenal of skills at reading opponents and making just the right moves, Negreanu was nicknamed 'Kid Poker' after winning his first championship at the World Series of Poker in 1998. The six-week poker extravaganza kicks off next week, but lately the affable Negreanu has been moving beyond the poker felt and getting involved with another lifelong passion – hockey.
Seventeen years after his professional introduction and with tournament winnings totaling almost $30 million, Negreanu is first on poker’s all-time money list. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame last year, recently named as a partner for the new Poker Central television network, and has been a sponsored pro for online site PokerStars for years.
In recent months, however, Negreanu has set his sights on trying to bring an NHL expansion team to Las Vegas. As a boy growing up, Negreanu was an avid Maple Leafs fan – crying after losses and playing street hockey until dark almost everyday after school in front of his house. Now living in Las Vegas, hockey remains one of his big passions in life outside of poker. He even chronicles his playoff wagers on Twitter.
“I really like the prospective owner Bill Foley and I'm confident that hockey will work in Vegas,” Negreanu, 40, says. “There are 2.2 million people in Las Vegas starving for a professional sports team. The base is there. Sure there is no hockey culture in Las Vegas at the moment, but wasn't that true of thriving franchises like the San Jose Sharks?”
Foley is head of Fidelity National Financial, a mortgage and title company based in Jacksonville, Fla., and is heading up the NHL efforts with the Maloof brothers, owners of the Palms Casino and former owners of the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise.
Negreanu’s efforts have paid dividends in recent months. He has been part of a founding group that helped to sell over 10,000 season ticket commitments to help prove to the NHL that there is a desire for a team in the city. So far, Negreanu has only been part of the ticket sales drive, but may be interested in being part of an ownership group.
“That depends on what it looks like, but I am certainly interested in exploring it,” he says. “Going forward, once the franchise is awarded, I may be involved as a minority owner.”
While some leagues have been leery about positioning a franchise within Las Vegas, Foley has made a serious effort to bring the NHL to Sin City. The businessman, who recently purchased a home in the Vegas area, plans for the team to begin play in 2016-17 in a new privately financed $375 million arena to be built on the famed Las Vegas Strip. Foley’s company already owns a few restaurants in the city.
In March, Foley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that NHL officials have not yet invited him to any league meetings to discuss the Las Vegas team bid. Foley’s group plans to keep taking deposits for season tickets even after the goal of 10,000 was reached.
“The more we sell, the stronger the argument,” Foley told the Review-Journal.
As a hockey fan and potential minority owner, Negreanu believes Vegas has some strengths over other possible expansion cities. As the face of poker, ‘Kid Poker’ might bring an infectious personality to the NHL, which could certainly help with marketing efforts in the Silver State should a franchise be awarded.
“People here will learn to love hockey, and this city has the added bonus of tourism,” he says. “People don't go to Columbus to watch the Blue Jackets and make a vacation out of it. That will happen with the Vegas team. If Calgary is playing in Vegas, you can bet that people will use that as a great excuse to make a quick Vegas trip – good for the city, and good for filling the seats.”
As the most successful tournament poker player in history, Negreanu brings something a bit different to any potential ownership group. He sees some similarities between the poker felt and business world.
“Bluffing, reading your opponent, value betting, et cetera, are all traits that are used regularly in business deals,” he says. “Think about it, when you are negotiating a price to buy a company, you have to figure out what the best price you can push for is. If you push too hard, you may lose a customer.
“In a poker hand, if you want the guy to call your bet, you have to figure out what the maximum amount he will call is. If you bet $5,000, will he fold? What if you bet $2,700? Figuring out the right price to lure your opponent in is a skill that translates to all business deals.”
With his recent efforts, ‘Kid Poker’ is certainly hoping that “checking” becomes more than just a poker term in Sin City.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @PokerTraditions. His new poker book is RAISING THE STAKES: True Tales of Gambling, Wagering & Poker Faces and available on Amazon.com.