LAS VEGAS — Nevada lawmakers are going out of their way this week to give a casino owner worth $32 billion a stadium funded on the back of taxpayers.
Soon we will find out if longstanding hypocrisy of the NFL has a price tag, too.
The guess here is that it does, because there’s nothing like a $750 million gift to pry NFL owners off their moral high ground. Sure, some may still view Las Vegas as a decadent place teeming with undesirables, but the idea of the city being the new home of the Raiders isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it may have been just a year or so ago.
Give Sheldon Adelson credit for that. The casino mogul’s scheme to fleece the public for a new stadium has so far worked to perfection. Nevada lawmakers have been falling all over themselves in a special session to pass a new tax for the project, even while schools are overcrowded and the state is facing a $400 million budget shortfall.
With that piece of business all but wrapped up — a vote by the Nevada Assembly is expected by the end of the week — the biggest remaining hurdle is for NFL owners to approve the move of the team from Oakland. Such a vote would have seemed laughable just a few years ago because of the league’s longstanding opposition to sports betting, but the times are changing.
Commissioner Roger Goodell’s protestations aside, NFL owners are realizing they have little to fear from sports betting. Many already are invested in some form of gambling and don’t see it as a threat or even a moral roadblock.
Plus, there’s nothing like a glittering new stadium to make NFL owners a little giddy.
That’s exactly what Adelson wants to build near his casinos just off the Las Vegas Strip. It’s his legacy project, a gift to the community, his envoys claim, even if others will be picking up a good piece of the tab and he will reap the profits.
Just how much that piece is isn’t exactly clear. Neither are many of the details of the stadium plan, carved out with the approval of Raiders owner Mark Davis.
What is clear is that Adelson and his minions demanded $750 million from new tourism taxes to pay for part of a stadium — that could cost $1.3 billion, $1.4 billion or $1.9 billion, depending on what figure is thrown out — or they would walk. Davis and the Raiders will put in $500 million — mostly through seat licenses and an NFL loan — and Adelson will cover the rest.
What is also clear is that the Raiders moving to Las Vegas would be a game changer in many ways. Not only would it give Sin City the prestige of an NFL team, but it would further soften attitudes toward sports betting that were once absolute.
This is a league, after all, that for years refused to allow Las Vegas to air commercials during the Super Bowl lest the thought there are casinos somewhere might somehow contaminate the sport.
There are some issues with an NFL team in Las Vegas, mostly because it is a small television market and a city that already has NFL teams on both sides in Los Angeles and Phoenix. The city has never shown it can support a professional sports team, though it will get an NHL team next year.
But while the stadium will increase hotel room taxes for 30 years, the expansion NHL team and arena were both privately funded. Billionaire owner Bill Foley is also putting up the money to build a practice facility for the team, while the Raiders will get $100 million in the stadium deal to build one of their own.
Count Foley among those who know a bad deal when they see one.
“I’m not going to be politically correct here,” Foley said at a fan fest a few days ago. “But I believe if you’re going to spend $750 million of the public’s money, it should be on policemen, firefighters and teachers.”
None of that made much of a difference to members of the state Senate who on Tuesday rubber-stamped Adelson’s tax plan. They figured out quickly which way the wind blows and it blows in favor of Adelson, a big political contributor who also owns the newspaper in Las Vegas.
So now the focus turns to the NFL, and securing 24 votes among 32 owners for the move. Though Goodell is opposed to the Raiders leaving Oakland, two owners believe it would be good for the league — and the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots carry some weight.
“Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft have told me the NFL is ready to do it,” casino owner Steve Wynn told legislators.
What Adelson ends up with other than a stadium for his legacy hasn’t been fully explained. Don’t be surprised, though, if he gets a piece of the Raiders, or eventually ends up owning the team.
He’s a casino operator who became incredibly rich by being incredibly good at finding ways to separate people from their money.
And he’s found a perfect companion in a league that operates on the same basic principle.