The National Hockey League will expand to Las Vegas for the 2017-2018 season after awarding its 31st franchise to billionaire businessman Bill Foley on Wednesday.

NHL Awards Expansion Franchise To Las Vegas

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the decision after the NHL’s board of governors met and voted to establish an ice hockey team in Sin City.

Foley is expected to pay $500 million to the league’s other owners as an expansion fee. The new team will play in T-Mobile Arena, the $375 million stadium that opened just off the Las Vegas Strip in April.  Foley mounted a strong bid for ownership along with minority partners Joe and Gavin Maloof, the former owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

The expansion marks the NHL’s first since 2000, when Minnesota and Columbus each paid $80 million to join the league.

Las Vegas has had an appetite for hockey ever since the Kings and New York Rangers played a memorable outdoor exhibition game here in 1991. The IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder sometimes drew more fans than UNLV’s beloved basketball team at the Thomas and Mack Arena in the 1990s, and the Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker leads a handful of locals who went on to hockey careers.

With a population of nearly 2.2 million people according to the last census, Las Vegas is the largest US city without any professional sports franchises. The city witnessed an economic boom in the last decade, and was chosen over Quebec City after the league decided it could attract large numbers of sports fans. Concerns about the small market, the Canadian dollar’s fluctuation and the NHL’s resulting geographical imbalance led the governors to scrap Quebec in favor of Vegas for the expansion.

T-mobile Arena was built with private funding. Foley has already accepted more than 14,000 season ticket deposits and sold out all 44 suites in the 17,500-seat rink built by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Kings.

Major sports leagues previously rejected the city outright because of concerns regarding corruption from Las Vegas’ giant sports betting economy, although the NHL and the NFL no longer seem to share those worries. In fact, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is interested in partnering with city interests to build a massive domed football stadium for his team.

Foley has not revealed a name or logo for the new team, but an announcement is expected to be made in the next few weeks. One potential choice could be the Black Knights, a name that has special meaning to Foley, who is a West Point graduate.

PHOTO: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – APRIL 06: (L-R) Clark County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Sherrard, AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman and President and CEO of Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions Scott Maccabe attend the T-Mobile Arena grand opening news conference on the Las Vegas Strip on April 6, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for MGM Resorts International)

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