Sports Betting Factors Into High-speed Rail Project As It Breaks Ground

Written By Cheryl Coward on April 29, 2024
A bullet train with blurred background, signifying bullet train being built being Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Amid the backdrop of two Los Angeles teams competing in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Southern California residents are a step closer to being whisked away on a bullet train to a place where they could legally bet on those teams.

Brightline West broke ground this week on a $12 billion, 218-mile high-speed rail project connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

With a projected completion date of 2028, electric trains could be running between L.A. and Vegas even before sports betting is legalized in California.

Project kicks off as sports betting sides seem to be coming together in California

Voters overwhelmingly rejected competing proposals to legalize California sports betting in 2023. While there’s no question the high-speed rail project is fueled by Southern Californians’ desires to gamble in Vegas casinos, the fact that sports betting remains illegal in a state chock full of college and professional sports teams is definitely a driving force.

According to a Morgan Stanley study, the percentage of Californians visiting the gambling mecca is at a multi-year high. Between 2022 and 2023, the percentage of visitors to Las Vegas from Southern California rose from 27% to 32%. How much of that increase can be attributed to the absence of legal sports betting in California is not known.

What is known is the bullet train project kicks off as the contentious path to legalizing sports wagering in California may be smoothing a bit. Major sportsbook operator FanDuel, which has battled California tribes over the issue in the past, now seems to understand that any sports betting market in California must be controlled by the tribes.

Vegas turning into a sports city

Las Vegas has experienced a meteoric rise in sports attractions. Its mix of brand-new and expansion professional sports teams has already resulted in multiple championships in the past few years. The Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup last year, while the Las Vegas Aces have collected back-to-back WNBA titles. The city also hosts the wildly popular NBA Summer League, which draws thousands of fans from outside the state.

In addition, the city has added an NFL team (Las Vegas Raiders) and soon an MLB team (the Athletics). An NBA franchise is also projected in the near future.

Last year, the Las Vegas Grand Prix Formula One race premiered. Formula One and the city have a 10-year agreement for the event.

These events provide sports betting opportunities unavailable to California residents unless they leave the state.

Resorts World Las Vegas Chief Marketing Officer Ronn Nicolli said Vegas is now a 365-days-a-year destination.

“Vegas really has eliminated what used to be seasonality. It feels that consistently the entire year is busy, and that’s somewhat new. It matured through ’22 and we saw increases, but we didn’t know if that was just revenge spend. But ’23 showed us a real next evolution in the growth of Las Vegas as a travel destination. In ’24, it doesn’t seem to be slowing at all.”

Trip between L.A. and Vegas expected to take around 2 hours

When it launches in 2028, the Brightline West train is expected to take just over two hours to travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It is being touted as a more convenient way to journey between the cities while reducing pollution with all-electric, zero-emission technology. It will be the first true high-speed passenger rail system in the US.

The train will run alongside Interstate 15, the federal highway between the two locations. It will have three Southern California stations and a Las Vegas flagship station just south of the Strip, so riders can easily access the local sports arenas, the convention center, and the airport. Brightline founder and Chairman Wes Eden told the Los Angeles Times:

“We’ll move millions of people between two of the most exciting and important regions of the country, Southern California and here in southern Nevada.”

The locations of the California stations are Apple Valley, Hesperia and Rancho Cucamonga. Passengers will be able to connect to the Rancho Cucamonga station via Metrolink trains from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

All stations will have parking. Ticket prices for the high-speed rail have not been revealed.

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Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward is a contributor for PlayCA with a background in sports journalism. She started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She’s a die-hard women’s basketball fanatic and founded the website as a result of that passion. She has extensive experience covering gambling and sports betting in California, including coverage of the Prop 26 vs. Prop 27 election battle.

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