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.

Adelson says Vegas stadium cost could be $2.1B, does $1B in public cash sound better now?

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee met yesterday as planned to discuss Sheldon Adelson’s proposed stadium to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, and discussed nine possible stadium sites and holy mother of God:

The estimated price tag has gone up, from an initial $1.4 billion to possibly as much as $2.1 billion. The rise in price would be in part due to land acquisitions, as well as the stadium now being proposed as a retractable dome.

(Props to NBC’s Mike Florio for noting that ESPN totally buried the lede on this one, though not nearly as badly as Adelson’s own Las Vegas Review-Journal did.)

Land acquisition money was expected to be a problem, though not $700 million worth of problem. (Adelson and his partners actually estimated the cost at between $1.7 billion and $2.1 billion, according to the Las Vegas Sun, apparently the only paper whose reporter  showed up at the hearing with a notepad.) A retractable roof — which Raiders owner Mark Davis now says he’d prefer — could add up to a large chunk of that cost, though, given how pricey those are to build.

This doesn’t change the estimated public price tag for the stadium, which is holding steady at right around $1 billion, but it does make a $1 billion expenditure seem slightly less exorbitant, maybe, if throwing a billion dollars in taxpayer cash at a $2 billion project sounds less wasteful than throwing a billion dollars at a $1.4 billion project. (There’s no reason it would be, but, you know, anchoring.) Why, you’d almost have to wonder if Adelson and Davis had that in mind when they released their new, bulkier cost estimates … but no, that would be devious and calculating, and billionaire casino owners/political kingmakers and sports team owners would never do a thing like that, right?

New potential Vegas stadium site emerges, public price tag still near $1B

There’s a new contender to be the site of a new Oakland Raiders stadium in Las Vegas, according to the people who own the land:

Representatives of Red Rock Resorts Inc. on Thursday confirmed that the Wild Wild West Gambling Hall & Hotel, about a half-mile west of I-15, is in the running as a potential site for the stadium proposed as a public-private partnership by Las Vegas Sands Inc., Majestic Realty and the Oakland Raiders.

That could work, sure: It’s just across I-15 from the Strip, which would make the stadium’s planners happy, and it has 58 acres of space with nothing much more than a Days Inn (with casino) on it, so it could easily fit a stadium plus surrounding development. Of course, nobody knows what Red Rock would want for the property, but hey, it’s only money, right?

And speaking of only money, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meets again today to debate whether to provide the $750 million in public subsidies that Sheldon Adelson and Mark Davis are asking for (really $1 billion) or the $550 million that the committee has proposed (really $950 million). Try not to get too excited over the outcome — the real decision will be when the Nevada legislature decides whether to throw whatever vast sums of money the committee has proposed at Adelson or Davis, which won’t be for a while yet.

All the proposed sites for a Vegas Raiders stadium are pretty much unworkable

Billionaire casino baron Sheldon Adelson and not-quite-billionaire Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis may be successfully getting Las Vegas officials to ignore the fact that they’re demanding the largest NFL stadium subsidy in history and instead settle for haggling over the price, but even if they get the public cash — which is still to be determined — they have to find a place to build the thing. And somewhat surprisingly, given that Vegas is in the middle of a trackless desert, this is turning out to be a bit of a problem:

  • The top site, on Tropicana Avenue near McCarran Airport, is now pretty much off the table thanks to the opposition of Southwest Airlines, which would have seen its flights scaled back thanks to the stadium interfering with available airspace.
  • The former site of the Riviera Hotel and Casino could work, except that that’s also the proposed site of a convention center expansion. Though given that half the reason behind the stadium proposal is thought to be to block to convention center plan — Adelson runs a competing convention center, and is hoping to suck up hotel tax money so it can’t be used to expand his rivals — this probably won’t be a stumbling block for Adelson, it could be for elected officials.
  • There’s the Rock in Rio grounds, but that’s privately owned and would cost a ton to purchase, and the Las Vegas 51’s Cashman Field, which is way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and nobody likes it as a site.
  • The latest contender is a site adjacent to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, which was previously under consideration by Majestic Realty, yet another one of the partners on this latest stadium project, for an earlier planned UNLV stadium, before the university ditched it when other local casino operators griped. No recurrence of those gripes has re-emerged as of yet, but there’s still plenty of time left to go.

Undoubtedly, Adelson and friends will ultimately find a site — team owners always do — and the bigger issue will be the money. The two are tied together, though, not just because a purchase price for land may have to be folded into the stadium funding deal, but because there’s the question of that tax increment district that Adelson wants, which could kick back more or less tax revenue to the stadium’s private owners depending on where it ends up going, and how many people visit there on non-game days. This is normally the sort of thing you’d hope local elected officials would work out before considering whether to drop almost a billion dollars on a project, but the combination of the lure of an NFL team and the combined lobbying might of Adelson plus Majestic can sway a lot of politicians to overlook details like “where will it go” or “how will we pay for it,” apparently.

Vegas says it’ll cut public Raiders stadium cost to $500m, would actually be $950m, math is dead

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee met yesterday to discuss Sheldon Adelson’s proposed $1.4 billion Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders as promised, and it … suggested cutting $250 million from the public subsidies? Maybe?

On Thursday, [committee chair Steve] Hill announced a new proposal for funding that reduces the tax money used from $750 million to $500 million and raises the cut for the Las Vegas Sands and Majestic Realty from $650 million to $900 million.

“I’ll tell you point blank we’re disappointed by what we saw today,” said Marc Badian, Raiders president.

Or maybe not?

The panel, along with representatives from the Raiders, developer Majestic Realty Co. and Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., heard again that the project won’t cost the public more than $750 million.

Thankfully, the committee has uploaded the actual proposal to their website, so we can check it out and try to figure out WTF is going on. The public funding in the “alternative” plan, as you can see, is actually listed as $550 million in stadium bonds, which would be covered by hotel taxes. (In Adelson’s plan, the hotel tax would pay for $750 million worth of bonds.) There would also be $7 million a year for operations and capital improvements, plus $3.5 million a year to repay UNLV for lost events revenue at their current stadium, for a present value of about another $150 million.

Then there is the tax increment financing portion, wherein sales, ticket, and business taxes on the stadium and practice facility would be kicked back to Adelson and Raiders owner Mark Davis, amounting to … it doesn’t actually say how much this would be, but I previously estimated it at around $250 million. So we’re at $950 million in public cost — or  $800 million if you don’t include the future operations and other expenses, though you really should — which either way is a whole lot more than $500 million.

In essence what the committee has proposed is to say to Adelson’s crew: Dudes, you’re getting almost a billion dollars, let the tax increment money be part of that instead of asking for it on top. This is enough to make the private partners “disappointed” (they were hoping to have their subsidies and eat them too), but not enough to stop this from being the most expensive public NFL subsidy in history. It would be pretty sweet, though, if the Vegas Raiders deal fell apart because a billionaire and an NFL owner turned up their nose at a mere $950 million subsidy, because they couldn’t be bothered to stoop down and pick it up.

Tax kickbacks could increase public cost of Vegas Raiders stadium to $1B

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee will meet again this week to finalize more details of a proposed NFL stadium that could host a relocated Oakland Raiders, and as befits a paper owned by the billionaire hoping to build the stadium, it totally buries the lede:

The committee has all but settled funding sources for stadium construction, [committee chair Steve] Hill said: an increase in the hotel room tax and a special tax district that includes the stadium and a football practice facility that would be used by the Raiders.

Hill explained that the tax district, as envisioned by the committee, would redirect revenue from sales taxes on goods sold on stadium grounds; the live-entertainment tax on tickets for stadium events; and the modified business tax on the payrolls of those employed at the stadium, including professional football players. Hill said the primary reason for imposing a special tax district on the practice facility is to capture payroll tax revenue from the Raiders.

That’s a whole lot of new specifics on how the previously floated tax increment financing district would work; let’s break it down:

  • “Sales taxes on goods sold on stadium grounds” is a potentially huge amount of money, especially if the stadium and practice facility includes any restaurants or other amenities open on non-game days. It’s tough to break out local stadium sales from Forbes’ figures, but if we guesstimate them at $100 million a year for the Raiders, plus a fraction of that for non-NFL events, at an 8.15% sales tax rate, that’s … how about we call it $10 million a year, for a present value of about $150 million.
  • The live entertainment tax is another 9% on ticket sales, which would normally go into state coffers. If it’s instead kicked back to the stadium builders, and we guesstimate $50 million in annual ticket sales, that’s another $4.5 million a year, for a present value of $70 million.
  • The modified business tax is 1.475% on wages, so if NFL team payroll is around $150 million (non-players add a trivial amount), that’s another $2.2 million a year, for a present value of $34 million.

Add all that to the $750 million in cash (from hotel-tax revenues) that Sheldon Adelson, Mark Davis, and their partners are asking for, and taxpayers would be putting up an even billion dollars toward a $1.4 billion stadium for the benefit of one billionaire and the most disliked owner in the NFL — who, in turn, after league money and naming rights were rolled in, would be on the hook for somewhere around bupkis. That would seem to be the headline to me, but I guess that’s why I don’t work at the Review-Journal.

Adelson exec: We don’t know site or cost for Vegas Raiders stadium, also tax money isn’t tax money

The Associated Press has a report out today that indicates that there are a few things about that $1.4 billion Las Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders that proponents Sheldon Adelson and Mark Davis might not have gotten precisely correct. Like, for starters, it may now cost $1.6 billion, because nobody remembered to include land costs. And about that land: They’re not actually sure where it will be:

[Las Vegas Sands executive Robert] Goldstein, who presented the stadium plan, made it clear that if a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus site is deemed to be too close to McCarran International Airport, project planners will need to quickly find another 40 acres.

Somebody unknown being on the hook to pay an unknown price for an unknown 40 acres of land in an unknown location is pretty alarming for a stadium deal that Adelson’s Sands Corp. is trying to get approved this year (“come January, if we’re not real, this has all been fun, but a waste of time,” said Goldstein). But, incredibly, that’s not the most alarming thing that Goldstein said yesterday:

As proposed, $750 million in public funding would come from a slice of hotel room tax revenues, or about $50 million per year. Commissioners were told that would add a little more than $1 per night to the average tourist’s hotel room bill.

Goldstein insisted it wasn’t taxpayer money.

The AP doesn’t provide an actual quote from Goldstein, so I don’t know whether he’s arguing that hotel taxes don’t affect Vegas residents because they’re only paid by out-of-towners (in which case he’s wrong) or that they’re not really taxes because they come out of hotel owners’ revenues (in which case he’s also wrong). But “insisting that tax money isn’t taxpayer money” is a great first step in any candidacy for the Chutzpah Hall of Fame.

Also, if anybody at the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee hearing asked about the TIF district that would kick back property (and sales?) taxes from inside (and around?) the stadium, wherever it ends up going, that didn’t make it into the AP article. So the total public cost still needs to be described as “at least $750 million, and possibly a heck of a lot more.” This is totally something the Nevada legislature should vote on as soon as possible, without asking more questions, because that always works out just great.

NFL gives three Super Bowls to cities with new stadiums, implies, “Keep ’em coming”

The NFL awarded the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles yesterday, continuing its policy of using the big game as a reward to cities and teams with new or significantly renovated stadiums. Or as Rams owner Stan Kroenke said following the decision, “I think they are telling the communities and the owners who stick their necks out that it’s worthwhile.”

The most important target of the announcement, then, isn’t the three cities that will now get the questionable benefit of hosting the NFL’s annual week-long road show, but those that are being wooed with that dubious carrot. Right now most of the reporting is on how New Orleans and Tampa Bay were snubbed because their stadiums aren’t as shiny as the cities that got the nod, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays into future coverage of stadium campaigns — already, San Diego Union Tribune chief Chargers stadium cheerleader Kevin Acee has written that the possibility of getting a Super Bowl shouldn’t be the reason to vote for a new stadium, but really he means that you should vote for a new stadium regardless, so all remains right with the world.

Interestingly, there’s no reporting yet that I can see out of Las Vegas on the Super Bowl decision, but that may be because they’re too busy covering yesterday’s conflicting comments on a potential Oakland Raiders move from owner Mark Davis (“This is the real deal. If Las Vegas can come through, we’re going to be there”) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (“It’s very premature at this point. Until we have more information, it’s pure speculation”). This could be just everyone playing their role — in terms of using Vegas as leverage in hopes of drumming up stadium subsidies from Oakland, Davis is bad cop, Goodell is good cop — or it could be a sign of deeper rifts among league owners over whether Davis should get to bolt from a bigger market to a smaller one in exchange for a lucrative (to him) stadium deal, and on what terms. We won’t know for sure until the next ESPN postmortem, I expect.

Vegas stadium builders still have no idea how much public money they’re asking for

An article in Friday’s Las Vegas Sun revealed a few more details about the tax-increment financing plan that Sheldon Adelson, Mark Davis, and Majestic Realty have floated for a possible Oakland Raiders stadium in Vegas:

“We build a billion-four project, bring (an NFL) team, it now generates a substantial amount of incremental tax revenue … and so we would take that increment that we created by our investment there,” [Majestic Executive Vice President Craig] Cavileer said in an interview. “Without that increment, you would not be successful in your investment.”…

The district could theoretically include property taxes, live entertainment taxes paid on tickets at stadium concerts, sales taxes from merchandise sales and so on.

Details of the proposed tax district are still unclear, however, including exactly which taxes would be involved. But Guy Hobbs, managing director of Hobbs, Ong & Associates, said the district would likely not encompass any revenues that weren’t directly incidental to the stadium itself.

Hobbs, who sits on the infrastructure panel’s technical advisory committee, said tax increment revenue could flow into a pool of money that would also include funds from operating the stadium. All of that could be used to pay the stadium expenses, he said, and any remaining revenue could be used to help provide a financial return to Sands and Majestic.

Let’s break that down a bit: First off, “directly incidental to the stadium itself” is a strange way of putting it, but presumably means it would only involve taxes actually paid on the stadium site. (What about at a steakhouse built next door to the stadium as part of the same project? Neither Cavileer nor Hobbs said.) Sales tax increment financing isn’t actually legal in Nevada, according to Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, or at least hasn’t been used there previously, so that could be a tough lift, and sales tax would be by far the largest piece of any TIF district. And paying stadium expenses with tax money would be, of course, a subsidy in exactly the same way that paying for construction costs would be, since this would be a privately run stadium where the private companies involved got all the stadium revenues — which you’d think would be enough to provide their “financial return,” but maybe they’re saying this is such a horrible stadium deal that it can’t turn a profit without $750 million in cash subsidies plus hundreds of millions more in TIF money? Stop with the hard sell, guys!

Hobbs suggested that any TIF numbers should be “stress tested” to make sure the money involved doesn’t get to a point “where it’s perceived to be — or is — too high,” since “otherwise, you could have these unbridled returns, and I don’t think anybody is interested in that.” No, I have no idea how much additional tax money kicked back to a billionaire who’s already getting $750 million in tax money qualifies as “unbridled,” and I’m sure Hobbs doesn’t either, but this appears to be a way of setting up an argument that hey, sure, we’re kicking back taxes on hot dog sales, but not as much as we could have, okay? I’m sticking with the quote that I gave the Sun for the same article: ““The question for me is not whether this is a bad deal for Nevada — it’s how bad of a deal.”