Raiders of the Next Ark: Nevada special session called for new NFL-ready stadium in Vegas

The NFL has two teams itching for greener pastures, and Nevada wants to roll the dice to provide it for them. Governor Brian Sandoval has called a special session of the legislature to consider raising taxes in order to pay for a new stadium. If he gets his way, Nevada won’t be playing with house money as much as it will soak the rubes on their way to the slots:

Nevada legislators will meet in special session on Monday to consider financing for a new football stadium just off the Las Vegas Strip in an attempt to bring an NFL team to Sin City.

Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) on Wednesday said he will call the legislature into session to consider using state money for the new stadium, along with separate measures to deal with an expected budget shortfall and education funding.

Legislators will debate raising taxes on hotel rooms in Clark County to pay the state’s share of the planned $1.9 billion domed stadium, a recommendation of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee. Sandoval created that panel in 2015 to begin plotting to bring an NFL franchise to Las Vegas.

It never ceases to amaze how politicians of both parties — even those who would rail against government subsidizing big businesses in any other context — will rush to offer public financing for major-league stadiums. Sandoval, a popular Republican, is apparently not immune to subsidy fever:

“Now is the time to capitalize on the opportunity before us to invest in Nevada’s most foundational industry, tourism, by providing for the infrastructure and public safety needs of the 21st Century,” Sandoval said in a statement. “We can and must usher in a new era for tourism in the Las Vegas market, while keeping our citizens and visitors safe, and ensuring our position as the global leader in entertainment and hospitality.”

Now, think about this for just a moment or two. Minneapolis and Detroit might have some argument for the need to boost tourism through major-league sports, while markets like New York and Los Angeles would have far fewer. In what universe, however, does Sin City need a boost in tourist buzz? Why would they need to spend almost two billion dollars ($750 million in public funds) to attract a billionaire into bringing his platoon of multi-millionaires to play eight regular-season games a year for a town that already attracts wealthy tourists from all over the world? By raising taxes on the rooms, they might even put a dent in demand for that tourism, although in fairness the lure of gaming will probably overcome it. Why risk that for an attraction that will likely compete with current entertainment venues for business rather than add to it?

This is a good time to place the bet, though. Both the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders are looking to escape their current confines, and both might have the league’s blessing. The Chargers really want to come up to Los Angeles, but might be talked into going further east, assuming San Diego doesn’t sweeten their offer enough to keep them at home.

The Raiders, however, have been playing footsie with Vegas for months. Principal owner Mark Davis even hoisted a “Las Vegas Raiders” banner not long after the NFL told the team to cool its jets on relocation for at least another year. Davis said at the time that the league’s owners would get over their nervousness about being so closely linked to gambling interests once a deal for a stadium got made. “Let’s give them an offer they can’t refuse,” Davis said. “They’re going to approve it based on that.” (As I wrote at the time: If Davis wants to make other NFL owners feel better about locating in Sin City, quoting The Godfather probably isn’t the way to do it.)

That’s a gamble for Sandoval and the Nevada legislature, too, albeit a penny-ante one. What if they authorize the taxes for a stadium, and the NFL balks at coming to the state and its casino-tourist culture? The taxes would likely be contingent on getting a team first, so that’d be a push, but it would be a political embarrassment for the governing class in the Silver State. Even with all of these factors in play, though, Nevada’s governor and legislature seem hell-bent on becoming the Silver and Black State. If nothing else, at least they’ll become the New Los Angeles — the city that all other NFL owners use to blackmail their current cities into ever-higher public spending.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022