That didn’t take long: After a whole one day of testimony, the Nevada state senate voted 16-5 to approve raising hotel taxes to give Sands casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis $750 million (at least) for building a new stadium in Las Vegas and moving the Raiders there. The measure now goes to the state assembly, which could vote as soon as tomorrow.
The debate, such as it was, went along predictable lines: Major local power brokers, including other casino owners, lined up in favor of the subsidy deal on the grounds that it would be an economic boon; opponents said, wait, are you serious — Stanford economist Roger Noll testifying that the proposed deal was the “worst I’ve ever seen” and called the Raiders’ economic study “deeply flawed” for assuming that one-third of ticket buyers would be tourists who’d spend more than three nights in Las Vegas just to see football, which has never happened anywhere ever; and then the senate went ahead and voted for the bill, because JOBS!!!!1!!.
Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said he could not face a laborer in need of work knowing “I had a chance to give you a job and I voted no.”
If that’s the bar, then no government expense for anything ever would be rejected, since it’s hard to spend money on anything without creating at least some jobs. Apparently Ford can sleep perfectly well when he considers facing laborers who could be employed by doing something else with that $750 million that might have a better bang for its buck than a football stadium — as the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Jon Ralston notes, Nevada is about to face a $400 million budget deficit that could lead to cuts in mental health, education, and other services. Even if you limited the use of hotel tax dollars to tourism spending (which the legislature doesn’t have to), it would be easy enough to use that to free up other money to spend on education — but then, you wouldn’t have a football stadium, just more schoolteachers, and those aren’t shiny.
Barring an unexpected outbreak of iconoclasm in the assembly, this stadium plan looks likely to pass, which leaves us only to consider exactly how costly it would be to Nevada, and whether it will gain NFL approval. On the first, I still haven’t been able to find any lease details for the Raiders stadium, which would help determine that “at least” way back in the opening sentence: There was one report that “the stadium authority would be responsible for day-to-day operations, including maintenance”; if that means fiscally responsible, that could easily drive the public cost up past $1 billion, taking it from “most expensive NFL subsidy ever” to “holy crap that blows any previous NFL subsidy out of the water.”
As for the NFL, who knows what the other 31 owners, who seem to have no love for Mark Davis, but who have to be excited about someone upping the ante for stadium subsidies, are going to do. Much will likely depend on whether Oakland officials make a counteroffer, or NFL owners think they can be induced to. But as we’ve seen before, the league tends to make these decisions less by weighing hard economic data than by weighing perceived ball size, so your guess is as good as mine.