Nevada governor to call October special session on handing $750m to Raiders, Adelson

If there was any doubt about whether Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was going to call a special session of the state legislature to discuss $750 million in subsidies for an Oakland Raiders stadium in Las Vegas after his hand-picked task force recommended spending the dough, that was dispelled yesterday when Sandoval said this:

“I am convinced that, given the circumstances and timing with regard to public safety, the convention center, and the NFL, there is an opportunity to significantly improve the tourism infrastructure of Southern Nevada — already the best in the world,” Sandoval said.

“Based on the current environment, I believe a special session of the Legislature is warranted and should be called as soon as can be practicably accomplished,” he said.

The session is likely to start sometime between October 7 and October 13, which will give the Clark and Washoe county commissions time to fill five vacant seats in the legislature before then. You have to figure Sandoval has taken the temperature of the legislature and figures the stadium plan has at least a decent chance of passage, or he wouldn’t be doing this, but we’ll see once deliberations start. A stadium bill would need at least two-thirds approval, remember, since it would involve a hotel tax hike; failing that, a simple majority vote could kick it to the seven-member Clark County Commission, which would need five votes to pass it.

If it seems incredible to you that Nevada is on the verge of approving the largest NFL stadium subsidy in history to benefit a billionaire developer and the owner of a team that hasn’t had a winning record in 14 years, yeah, me too. At this point, I’m mostly curious to see whether the legislature spends any time at all debating the niceties of a stadium lease — who would pay for future maintenance, operations, and upgrade costs, and would Mark Davis be able to get out of his lease and move again (or threaten to) anytime soon? Not holding my breath given how the political discourse has gone so far, but there’s always hope.

Clark County officials ask questions about Raiders stadium plan, but none of the right ones

With the Nevada legislature not in session, it’s been left to the Clark County Commission to debate the proposed $750-million-plus subsidy for a Las Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders. They did so yesterday, and of the seven commission members, two asked lots of questions about the deal:

A barrage of questions came from Commissioners Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Chris Giunchigliani…“It gives a lot of authority to one group of folks to determine … how the dollars are spent, all of those leases that are created early on, and a lot of the protections I think we need as a county on the bonding are done by somebody else without any input from us,” [Kirkpatrick] said after the meeting. “None of that said they had to live in Nevada. There was a lot of detail left out on who can actually sit on that authority.”

Kirkpatrick added she wanted to see language guaranteeing Nevada workers the bulk of the jobs created by the stadium project.

Giunchigliani, who has opposed public financing for the stadium, said she needed more information about the proposed hotel room tax increase. The commissioner added that she would rather see Adelson put his entire $650 million stake into the project before the county began paying.

Those are questions, all right. They’re not any of the questions that they should be asking — like “Is it really worth it to Clark County to put $750 million in tax money into this?” or “When are we going to see a proposed lease so we know whether taxpayers will be on the hook for future maintenance and upgrade costs?” — but it’s more than commission chair Steve Sisolak, who was on the appointed task force that proposed this deal and was in the position of defending it, or the other four commissioners, who “were near silent on the matter” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, would-be stadium subsidy recipient Sheldon Adelson’s pet newspaper.

Or if you want alternative coverage, here’s an entire report from KSNV-TV that thinks that the appointed task force consisting largely of casino executives is a county “tourism committee.” I’m done, see you tomorrow.

Goodell asked about Raiders’ Vegas move, answers like NFL commissioners are paid to answer

Roger Goodell was asked on Sunday if the NFL would approve an Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas, and said everything you would expect from a man who needs to balance keeping various owners happy, not pissing off local elected officials, and keeping open the option of some kind of stadium bidding war:

“There’s still a lot that has to happen before we would get to that stage,” Goodell said of the owners approving Las Vegas as an NFL city. “Recognizing that they came out of committee with a bill, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve that recommendation.”

He said he is still evaluating whether having a team play in a casino-filled city is a good idea…

“Well, you never want to see a community lose their franchise once, much less twice,” Goodell said. “That’s why we work so hard with our communities to say, ‘This is what you have to try to get to,’ because you need to try to make sure this franchise continues to be successful.’

“The Minnesota community did that in a great way. I think we can do it in Oakland. I think there’s a solution there, but it takes the community to help identify it.”

You can parse this in a million different ways, but the way that makes the most sense is “We’re keeping our options open.” Or maybe “Keep throwing money on the table, we’ll count it up later to see who wins.” Right now it’s tough to imagine the NFL owners turning down an offer of at least $750 million if the Nevada legislature offers it, casino city or no, but there’s still a lot of haggling left to go.

Unelected board okays $750m-plus Raiders stadium subsidy, democracy maybe to commence soon

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee yesterday approved spending $750 million in hotel tax dollars on a new stadium for the Oakland Raiders and whoa whoa hold on, take a deep breath and read back to the beginning of the sentence, okay? The SNTIC, despite that official-sounding “committee” in its name, is an unelected body appointed by Nevada’s governor to “explore potential funding mechanisms to support new tourism-related initiatives,” and looks like this:

  • Steve Hill Chairman Executive Director Governor’s Office of Economic Development
  • Len Jessup Vice Chairman President University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • Carolyn Goodman Mayor City of Las Vegas
  • Steve Sisolak Chairman Clark County Commission
  • Kristin McMillan President and Chief Executive Officer Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce
  • Tom Jenkin Global President Caesars Entertainment
  • Bill Noonan Senior Vice President of Industry and Governmental Affairs Boyd Gaming
  • Bill Hornbuckle President MGM Resorts International
  • Kim Sinatra Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Wynn Resorts
  • George Markantonis President and Chief Operating Officer of The Venetian and The Palazzo Las Vegas Sands Corporation
  • Mike Sloan Senior Vice President of Government Relations Station Casinos

So, one governor’s aide, the mayor of Las Vegas, the county chair, the president of the university that would get to play at the stadium, the head of the chamber of commerce and six casino executives — including a top exec of Sands, the company that would be getting the $750 million — thought it was a good idea to send this plan to the state legislature. There, exactly none of them will have a vote on actually approving the deal, though Sisolak might get a vote if the state punts it to the county, as is its right if it can’t get a two-thirds majority to pass a stadium bill.

So what, exactly, did these seven business leaders, two appointees, and two elected officials approve? Take it away, Las Vegas Review-Journal:

At a meeting stoked with enthusiasm and a few minor squabbles, the 11-member committee unanimously supported the stadium developers’ preferred funding option, which requires a $750 million public investment, eliminates a 39 percent public contribution cap and allows the private partners to reap all stadium profits during the lifetime of the Raiders’ lease.

And that’s how it was reported by the paper that is owned by Sands owner Sheldon Adelson, mind you. So stark was the SNTIC’s capitulation to every one of Adelson’s demands that even the paper that isn’t allowed to say anything bad about the deal had to shake its collective head in wonderment.

What we know about the stadium proposal: Clark County would raise hotel taxes by 0.88%, and direct the proceeds to paying down $750 million in public stadium construction debt. (The hotel tax hike is projected to be plenty big enough to cover those costs.) Adelson would kick in $650 million, and Raiders owner Mark Davis would provide $500 million, though they would presumably get to offset their costs with naming rights fees and PSL sales and NFL G-4 funds, whereas the county would get none of this money. Another $10.4 million a year (roughly $150 million in present value) in sales tax, live entertainment tax, and business tax from an area around the stadium would get siphoned off by the stadium authority, though the SNTIC’s stadium Powerpoint makes it appear that maybe that money would go toward the same $750 million payment, and not be on top of it.

I’m hedging on that last one because the state-controlled stadium authority could well be stuck with additional costs — future capital improvements to the stadium, say — depending on the ground lease that it agrees to with Adelson. A ground lease, mind you, that hasn’t actually been negotiated yet. This, people, is crazytown, but sadly the kind of crazytown that is all too common in public stadium negotiations, particularly when it’s between the developers that are asking for the money and an unelected body that the developers themselves sit on.

The next step now is for Gov. Brian Sandoval to decide whether to call a special session of the legislature, since Davis would want to apply to the NFL for relocation at its January owners’ meeting, and there’s no regular legislative session scheduled before then. (Why should the Nevada legislature be playing to the NFL’s clock? The two-minute warning, duh.) If he does, which seems likely, then the battles will start over getting the necessary two-thirds vote of the legislature to approve the tax hike — or, if that can’t be arranged, a simple majority vote to punt the deal to the seven-member county commission, which would then have to vote at least 5-2 for the stadium to be approved.

It’s still no sure thing, in other words, but the SNTIC has set the framework for debate, which is no longer “What, if anything, should we offer the Raiders to move to Vegas?” and now instead “Should we give Sheldon Adelson at least $750 million in tax money, and possibly a whole lot more, so the Raiders will move here? Y/N.” Residents of Nevada, if you have an opinion about this, let your state lawmakers know.

UPDATE: Almost forgot to mention the best thing ever in the history of things:

Nevada officials haggling over Raiders stadium are the worst hagglers in Haggletown

Last week I picked on Nevada officials for focusing on relative trivialities in Oakland Raiders stadium negotiations instead of the bigger question of whether spending $950 million in tax money on an NFL stadium makes a damn bit of sense. But I didn’t realize just how trivial they were thinking — check out this latest report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal (a fully owned subsidiary of would-be stadium builder Sheldon Adelson):

One of the financing options before the committee includes that 39 percent cap and would set the developers’ “preferred return” at 10 percent on up to $650 million.

That option also calls for a 50-50 split of the cash flow after the 10 percent return between the developers and a capital improvement fund for the stadium project. It would not allow operating shortfalls or overruns in construction costs to be added to the preferred return calculation.

The 39% cap I discussed last week: Basically it would cut the public’s costs if the stadium came in under budget, but that never happens anyway, so it’s not worth worrying about. Getting taxpayers a share of the stadium cash flow sounds like a great idea — we’re spending a lot of the money, we should get some of the proceeds! — until you think about the details of how this would work: The first $65 million a year in profit would go to the developers (that’s a 10% return on $650 million), after which the public would get half of the remaining profits — but only to use on future stadium improvements. Hands up, anyone who thinks that 1) an NFL stadium is really going to throw off more than $65 million a year in profits after paying off construction costs, and 2) if it somehow does, the owners of the Raiders and Adelson’s casino company won’t find some way of hiding the money in one of their other pockets to avoid sharing any of it with the public?

So far Adelson and Raiders owner Mark Davis have rejected both these proposals, but to be honest, Nevada lawmakers shouldn’t sweat over either of them, because they’re next to worthless for the public. If public officials want to get a slice of money set aside for future stadium improvements, they should just put it in the damn lease that Adelson and Davis have to pay for future stadium improvements since they’ll be running the place, and not worry about slicing off slivers of future mythical profits. And if they’re concerned about the cost of construction, don’t worry about what happens if it comes in too low — rather, start by not opening your bidding at the $950 million that was the opening ask of the guys across the table. Especially when the starting bid of the city you’re competing with is zero.

Sure, “That sounds too rich for our blood, would you take, say, $250 million?” is going to get a huffy reaction from Davis and Adelson, but then, asking for anything is getting a huffy reaction from those guys, so might as well ask for something that’s actually worthwhile. As usual, elected officials are proving that they’re really terrible at this stuff.

Nevada stadium committee on $950m Raiders stadium subsidy: Can we get whitewalls with that?

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee is getting closer to making its recommendation on Sheldon Adelson and Mark Davis’s $950 million subsidy request to build a stadium to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, and the coalition of local elected officials and casino execs has narrowed down its objections to a few quibbles that, while significant, aren’t really in the same league as that $950 million ask:

  • The committee wants a provision setting a 39% maximum percentage of the stadium costs that the public would be on the hook for. (This only counts the $750 million in direct hotel-tax subsidies, not the $200 million in tax increment financing kickbacks that an exec of developers Majestic, yet another stadium partner, insisted is required for the private parties to be “successful in [our] investment.”) Adelson and Davis say no, presumably since if they end up saving money on stadium costs, they don’t want to pass any of the savings along to the public.
  • The committee is seeking a provision getting some return for the public if the stadium is a success. Likewise, the stadium proponents say this would be a deal-killer.

They’re both reasonable enough asks by the committee, but seriously, worrying about stuff like this amid a $950 million stadium subsidy is like haggling over the color of the steering wheel when buying a million-dollar sports car: Sure, it’s important, but maybe you should be thinking about the bigger picture here? It’s definitely not a good sign for taxpayers concerned about blowing nearly a billion dollars on an NFL stadium that their elected officials see these as the main sticking points.

Of course, hardly anyone on the committee will actually have a vote on any of this in either the state legislature or on the county commission, so its recommendation isn’t remotely binding in that sense. But negotiations like this can end up framing the debate around proposed stadium subsidies — let’s hope that whatever the committee comes up with, it doesn’t end up burying the forest to focus on a couple of trees.

It’s not just Sheldon Adelson’s paper running crappy articles on the Raiders stadium plan

I, along with pretty much everyone else, have been extremely critical of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for its coverage of the $950 million Raiders stadium subsidy proposal being pursued by the paper’s owner, Sands casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. But as I always try to point out, there’s plenty of bad journalism out there being committed by news outlets that don’t have an overt conflict of interest, and today it’s the Las Vegas Sun’s turn. Here’s the lede on today’s Sun story on whether Nevada will call a special session to vote on the stadium subsidy:

It’s that time of year again: The only thing standing between Nevada and what many would see as an economic-development win is a legislative deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2014, it was Tesla. In 2015, Faraday. This year, an NFL stadium.

That’s bad, for starters, because of the way it contorts itself to paint a Raiders stadium (plus the equally problematic Tesla and Faraday subsidy deals) as a big win that’s being held up by legislative red tape. (“What many would see,” seriously?) But it’s also bad because the article contains a bunch of interesting information about what’s going on behind the special-session talks, all of which it buries:

  • “Sands executives have said they’ve been in touch with lawmakers daily — sometimes two or three times a day — in an effort to woo their approval of [a special session this month].” That’s a crazy amount of lobbying, and would seem to demand asking legislators if they’ve really been getting daily calls from Adelson’s people,  investigations of how much Adelson is spending on lobbyists, and so on. None of that appears in the article, which is mostly he-said-she-said stuff running down who seems to be leaning towards or against approving the special session.
  • “There’s also concern about the impact voting for the stadium could have on the outcome of the election itself. Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, who is running unopposed in his race in Northern Nevada, pointed to a recent KTNV/Rasmussen Poll that showed 55 percent of Clark County voters oppose pledging up to $500 million in public funds to the stadium. ‘The polls I’ve seen in Southern Nevada are about 50-50,’ Hansen said. ‘Politically, this could hurt somebody running for re-election.'” Does Hansen have access to some other polls, or does he really think that 55%-35% opposition is “about 50-50”?
  • And way down at the bottom of the story: “A two-thirds vote in both houses would be needed to raise the room tax, so 42 legislators need to be on board. If that doesn’t happen, Plan B is to punt the decision to the Clark County Commission. Legislators could pursue a permissive vote, which would only need a simple majority, and pass the tax-increase vote along to the seven-member county commission, which would need to pass it with a two-thirds majority.” So if the legislature can’t get a two-thirds majority, it can punt it to the county, which only needs five commissioners to say “yes” to make this happen? Where do the county commissioners stand on this? Sorry, story’s over, check back tomorrow.

I don’t mean to pick on the author of the Sun story too much (though she should be picked on some), since she was probably just assigned to get the temperature of the state legislature, not to actually write a story explaining the more important details of what’s going on. Still, that none of her bosses read this and said, “Nice first draft, now flesh it out by answering some of the questions that it raises” is a pretty depressing indictment of the state of journalism today.

As Raiders unveil stadium pics, reporters told to ask subsidy questions, keep answers secret (UPDATED)

I have a big stack of news items that I’m going to be playing catchup with all week, but I’m still on the road one more day, so that infodump will need to wait till Tuesday at the earliest. Instead, here’s the latest rendering released by the Oakland Raiders ownership of a possible new stadium in Las Vegas: raiders-vegas-stadium-frontAs stadium watchers and journalists alike immediately noticed, this bears a striking resemblance to the stadium that the Raiders and San Diego Chargers were going to build in Carson, California:
raiders-carson-rendering-08-26-16There’s even the return of the giant Al Davis eternal flame that was originally proposed for Carson, then scrapped because it was just so stupid:

raiders-stadium-vegas-flameWhy cut-and-paste old designs into a new site, especially when you don’t even know which Vegas site it might be? Momentum, duh: This enables Raiders owner Mark Davis and his investment partners Sheldon Adelson and Majestic Realty to make it feel like this thing is going to get built, look, we have pictures of it, rather than having the Nevada public’s main image be of a pile of burning money. It’s the same reason why Davis filed for the trademark “Las Vegas Raiders” and released new stadium spending estimates stressing his own share of costs, even if they were misleading (he’s still failing to mention the roughly $250 million in tax increment kickbacks that Majestic has insisted are necessary for the project) and failed basic math (of a now-$1.9 billion total cost, the state would kick in $750 million in hotel-tax revenues and the private developers would put up $1.25 billion, which wait, what?).

If this stadium does happen, those almost certainly won’t be the final spending numbers, and these almost certainly won’t be what the stadium looks like. But it’s a lot easier to make a deal look like a fait accompli when you have hard numbers and actual drawings, even if those are just things you made up knowing you’ll change them later. It’s the clear plastic binder all over again.

And all this is aided and abetted, meanwhile, by having one of the stadium developers own the biggest newspaper in town, which allows for media manipulation like this jaw-dropping one revealed by Ralston Reports:

Reporters for Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper have been told to ask candidates if they support public money for the stadium proposed by the Las Vegas Sands chairman but that the Las Vegas Review-Journal will not actually publish the answers.

This astonishing request was made in a memo two weeks ago from Assistant City Editor Don Ham:

All of you who are handling state Senate, state Assembly and Clark County Commission races for the tab should make sure to ask this very timely question of the candidates. This question is NOT going to be added to the question asked of candidates for the online election package, though. Should public money, in the form of room taxes, be used to build a proposed stadium in Las Vegas. Why or why not? Any questions, see me. Thanks.

The leading theory here is that Adelson, who owns the Review-Journal, is intent on using the paper’s reporters to gather intelligence on where candidates stand on his stadium subsidy proposal, without actually using any of that information to, you know, inform readers. This would be far from the worst abuse of power by Adelson involving his newspaper holdings, but only because he’s set the bar so very high.

UPDATE: The Review-Journal’s managing editor writes in to say that the stadium questions were too for publication, just for publication in a different part of the paper. I’ll add further updates if I can ferret out whose interpretation of events makes a damn bit of sense.

Sen. Reid says sure, Las Vegas Raiders would be nice, it’s not my money

Speaking of misleading headlines, the Las Vegas Review-Journal asked soon-to-be-retiring U.S. Sen. Harry Reid what he thought of the possibility of the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas, and mumbled something about how sure, that’d be nice:

“I think it would be great if the Raiders came to Las Vegas,” Reid said. “I think it would be great that the most successful convention and visitors authority got the help that they need. So I hope they both get help. We’ll see.”…

As to the public financing being sought for the 65,000-seat stadium — up to $750 million, financed by a proposed increase in Clark County’s hotel room tax — Reid noted that, to his knowledge, no federal money would be requested.

“So I think you leave that to the state Legislature and state and local governments,” he said. “I know it’s in dispute. Would I like to have a professional football team, an NFL team? Of course. That would be great.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, especially for the $950 million in public funds (when you count TIF tax kickbacks) that would be required, but it’s certainly vaguely positive. The Review-Journal’s headline:

Reid declares support for stadium, Raiders’ move to Las Vegas

The Review-Journal, of course, is owned by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who is asking for the $950 million so he can build the stadium. I’d blame it on that, but as we’ve seen, plenty of newspapers without overt conflicts of interest have done just as crappy a job.

Vegas area residents don’t want to give any tax money to Raiders stadium, let alone $950m

KTNV in Las Vegas polled Clark County voters last weekend on whether they’d approve using public tax money on a new NFL stadium to bring the Oakland Raiders to town, and the results were an overwhelming nuh-uh:

Fifty-five percent of voters polled in Nevada’s largest county said they’d oppose pledging up to $500 million in public funds to help finance a stadium that could potentially bring an NFL team to Las Vegas, with 35 percent in favor and 10 percent undecided.

This is in no way surprising, since public opinion usually is against using tax money for sports venues, at least before any major public ad campaigns have been run, though that 20% margin is pretty large. Also not surprising: One of the execs at the company that would get the public boodle says it’s all a problem of how the question was phrased.

Las Vegas Sands executive Andy Abboud responded to the survey results, saying that voters respond more favorably to the proposed stadium when they learn more about how the tax would be structured.

“The survey question leaves out critical information,” he said in an emailed statement. “Specifically, the public funding would come from an increase in the hotel tax, which is predominantly paid by those visiting Clark County, not its residents.”

First of all, no, hotel taxes belong to Clark County residents, just like any other kind of taxes — once they’re paid to the county treasury, you can use them for anything you want. (And it’s not like even taxes on out-of-towners are free money: If you raise them too high, visitors start staying away from town.) Second of all, no, that’s not where all the public funding would come from, since the deal also includes about $250 million in tax increment kickbacks of sales and business taxes paid in and around the stadium.

Would a more precisely worded poll be better? Yes! Would the results be any different? Probably not! Is any of this going to matter to the elected officials who are going to decide this without a public vote? Who knows, though Deadspin does hope that the specter of Tim Lee’s dead political career will haunt them, or at least give them pause before they approve an outlay of $950 million that their constituents aren’t in favor of.