Mark Davis was beaming as he posed with fans behind a black and silver “Las Vegas Raiders” banner. He made a few jokes before delivering a $500 million commitment to a new stadium in the city for his team. Then the owner of the Raiders got serious about the prospects of getting fellow NFL owners to allow him to move from Oakland to a city the league has long shunned because it has legal sports betting. “Let’s give them an offer they can’t refuse,” Davis said. “They’re going to approve it based on that.”
At times during the meeting of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, it looked like the marriage had already begun. There were few pointed questions from committee members, and at one point Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was gushing in her love and support for the team. It all made for good theater, and created even more momentum for billionaire casino operator Sheldon Adelson’s plan to land the team. NFL owners in the past have expressed interest and made commitments to move to other cities, but Davis was attaching a $500 million investment along with his plan. “We’re not using Las Vegas as a bargaining chip,” Davis said. “This is real.”
Despite the commitments, there are hurdles to overcome if the dozen or so Raiders fans who showed up to support the move will be watching their team in Las Vegas in 2020. The two biggest are figuring out a way to siphon room taxes to pay for a big chunk of the project, and gaining approval of 23 other NFL owners to move. With Davis committed to putting in $500 million — $200 million of that a loan from the NFL fund used for stadium projects — and the Las Vegas Sands offering some money, there is still a gap of $750 million needed to build the 65,000-seat stadium.
Stadium backers are proposing the money come from increased taxes on tourists, though rival casino operators say they need to be assured first that there is enough in the pot to fund a big expansion of the city’s convention center at the same time. It would also need to be approved by the state Legislature, which they will ask the governor to call into special session in August for a vote. Even if that happens, the NFL must approve the move. Davis said he hoped to go before the owners by the end of the year and persuade them to drop their longtime opposition to Las Vegas so the Raiders can move. “You’d have to ask them,” Davis said, when asked about the opinions of his fellow owners. “I haven’t heard anything. I’ve heard questions, but I haven’t heard an outright ‘No.'”
Davis, whose father moved the Raiders to Los Angeles and later moved them back, said the team would likely remain in Oakland while the new stadium is built, likely for the next three seasons. The team would probably move to Vegas in 2020 from the O.co Coliseum, which was built a half century ago and lacks the modern amenities of most NFL stadiums. Raiders President Marc Badain said there has been no progress made in recent months with officials in Oakland about a new stadium there.
Beckham, who is behind a proposed Miami Major League Soccer franchise, sat next to Davis at the meeting, adding a bit of star power in a town that has always embraced stars. “It’s a bigger idea, it’s about the MLS coming here, it’s about bringing the biggest European teams here like Manchester United,” Beckham said. “To be able to come here and be part of this and being able to speak this morning is a huge honor to myself.'”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell softened on the league’s opposition to Las Vegas in recent weeks, saying it would be up to owners whether a team could be in a city that features legalized sports betting. The NFL has long shunned Las Vegas, refusing its TV ads and telling players not to make appearances at casinos. But the NFL plays games in London, where there are many betting parlors taking wagers on the games, and some newer owners don’t hold the same anti-gambling views of their predecessors.
Davis noted the Raiders played in Las Vegas in an exhibition in 1964, the only game by future NFL teams in the city. The Raiders beat Houston before an overflow crowd at the city’s baseball field. “With your help it won’t be another 50 years before the Raiders play another game in Las Vegas,” Davis said.