LAS VEGAS — This is a town built on taking money from people, not giving it to them.
But when the NFL comes calling, all bets may be off.
What seemed unimaginable just a few months ago may no longer be such a stretch. Pair one of the world’s richest men with a team eager to escape Oakland and, who knows, even the most hardcore NFL owners might be persuaded to give this gambling city a try.
There’s a catch, of course. Actually a couple of them, if you consider the NFL’s longtime refusal to even admit that Las Vegas exists.
This is, you might remember, a league that just a few years ago wouldn’t allow the city to run ads during the Super Bowl, lest it somehow corrupt the game.
The same hypocritical league that has tried to position itself as some sort of moral authority when it comes to sports betting, when in fact the point spread played a big role in helping make it the most popular league in the country.
But now Mark Davis wants to bring his Raiders to town, or so it seems. Rebuffed by the NFL in his attempt to move to Los Angeles and apparently not feeling any love from politicians in Oakland he has set his sights on Sin City as the new home of the Silver and Black.
In a town that has seen almost every scam imaginable, some might laugh at the thought of being played like a sucker in the NFL relocation game. But Davis has an ace in the hole in billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who is spearheading — make that steamrolling — a proposed $1.4 billion stadium just off the glittering Strip to host the Raiders.
Davis is expected to be at a meeting Thursday of a commission studying the stadium issue, and there are reports he will publicly commit to moving his team if the city will commit to a stadium.
That surely will get the attention of Roger Goodell and others in the NFL offices in New York.
The problem is, Adelson doesn’t want to spend much of his own money — Forbes says he’s worth $28.9 billion — building the stadium. A preliminary plan for the stadium calls for two-thirds of the money to be raised by tourist taxes, including some that rival hotel operators want used for an expansion of the city’s convention center.
But what Adelson wants in Las Vegas he usually gets. That includes the city’s daily newspaper, which he bought just before plans for the new stadium became public and which has been an unabashed cheerleader for the project.
And in a town that has seen more than its share of big ideas and failed dreams, really, what’s $1.4 billion among friends?
Actually, there’s a lot to like about the Raiders in Las Vegas. A rebel team for a rebel town, it’s almost a perfect match, assuming the NFL can somehow overcome its betting phobia.
And with thousands of fans expected to come to town for each game, imagine how the city’s airport will look on a game morning with Raider fans in their Sunday best.
Still, there remains the betting issue. Some old school NFL owners still view it as a stigma that can’t be overcome, and Davis would have to get 23 other owners to agree on the move before it could be made.
But the league is playing an expanded schedule in London, where there are betting parlors on every corner. And Goodell opened the door just a bit to the possibility of Las Vegas last month, softening the league’s stance by saying “ultimately each owner would have a vote on that.”
The NHL doesn’t seem to have such qualms and may award the city an expansion franchise for the new T-Mobile Arena on the Strip in coming weeks. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is also on record as saying sports betting is good for business as long as it is legal and well regulated.
The NFL was always going to be a longshot for Las Vegas, and still probably is. To land a team, NFL owners would have to change some deeply held mindsets, and politicians would have to take a risky gamble on public financing of the stadium.
Davis would also have to prove he’s not like his carpet bagging father, who moved the Raiders to Los Angeles and back, while pocketing a $10 million deposit from the small city of Irwindale in 1989 on a failed stadium bid there.
Indeed, the obstacles would have seemed insurmountable before Adelson put the full weight of his wealth and influence behind it.
Suddenly, though, it’s getting more difficult to find anyone willing to lay odds against it.