Adelson tells Davis to get his filthy hands off his $750m, could blow up Vegas Raiders deal

Last week, following the Nevada legislature’s vote to approve $750 million in subsidies for a stadium to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, I wrote that “the only people who can save Nevada from this expense now are the other 31 NFL owners.” Which seemed true at the time — but then, I hadn’t considered the possibility of the recipients of the $750 million turning against each other over how to split the loot, but that’s exactly what seems to be happening:

“I negotiated to bring in the Oakland Raiders, an NFL football team from Oakland, because they don’t have a stadium there, that I would build a stadium and rent it out to the Oakland Raiders,” Adelson said on Wednesday during a travel technology conference in Tel Aviv.

Adelson, who succeeded this month in getting legislation passed to enable the construction of the stadium, said his problems now involve negotiations with the Raiders.

“They want so much,” he said. “So I told my people, ‘Tell them I could live with the deal, I could live without the deal. Here’s the way it’s gonna go down. If they don’t want it, bye-bye,'” he said.

What the hell, man! I understand that lease talks can be difficult — especially when you’re deciding how to split a ten-digit stadium construction cost, plus the revenues that would help pay it off — but seriously, you didn’t think to work any of this out before asking the legislature for $750 million? The Adelson-Davis partnership always seemed like a marriage of convenience — Adelson wanted to grab any available state hotel-tax cash before it was spent on a convention center expansion, while Davis wanted a city that would offer him lots of stadium money like Oakland was refusing to do — but you’d think they’d at least have talked about the terms of a prenup.

Whether Adelson is genuinely ready to blow up the whole deal or is just trying to shake Davis down for a bigger cut of stadium revenues is unknown. (And it could be both, really.) But this is not the kind of development that is going to make those other 31 NFL owners say, “Hey, Las Vegas, welcome to the club!” There are clearly more twists and turns to come, but a Las Vegas Raiders franchise suddenly seems a lot less likely than it did yesterday morning.

Mark Davis: Oakland doesn’t love me, I’m gonna go eat $750m in worms

When you’re a sports team owner trying to get your fellow owners to okay your move to a new city that’s waving a $750 million check in your face, it’s not so bad a strategy to try to burn your bridges with your old city, just in case. And Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is clearly a man who knows his way around a can of lighter fluid:

“Oakland was in the driver’s seat if they could’ve put together anything,” Davis said Wednesday at the NFL’s fall meetings, after updating his fellow owners on his desire to relocate to the gambling capital. “They came up with nothing.

“Las Vegas has already done what it is supposed to do and we have to bring it up to the National Football League and get permission to move to Las Vegas.”

Yeah, screw you, Oakland! You didn’t offer Mark Davis a $750 million check, instead only saying you’d pay for maybe $200 million worth of infrastructure! Who wants a measly $200 million, amirite, guys?

(For her part, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a statement following Davis’s press conference: “If Oakland is going to be successful in offering the Raiders and the NFL a viable alternative to moving to Las Vegas, I have to stay clearheaded. I cannot afford for us to be thrown off our game because Nevada lawmakers have deemed it appropriate to put $750M in public money towards a private sports facility. While I’m committed to keeping the Raiders, I will not enter into a bidding war with Nevada using public funds.”)

Anyhoo, no NFL owners tipped their hand following the meeting on how they plan to vote — Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said, “These things are still so fluid until they nail everything down we don’t know what we’re looking at. We’ll wait until we have a full package,” which is a really long way of saying “Reply cloudy, ask again later” — so we may well be waiting a few months while everyone hashes out their positions here. (Plus what everyone can agree on as a relocation fee.) Davis has said he plans to have the Raiders play in Oakland the next two seasons anyway, which is going to go oh so well after he just announced he’s moving the team and gave the middle finger to his old city. How is Sports Twitter responding to this?

Wait, what? Mark Davis made his presentation to his fellow owners in a long-sleeved white t-shirt? Maybe how he’s perceived by Oakland fans isn’t this guy’s biggest worry.

NFL decision expected sometime on Raiders, team to play somewhere in interim

Journalism can be a big game of telephone, especially in the social media age, and that’s what appears to be happening with NBC Sports’ Mike Florio’s report yesterday on the NFL’s voting timetable on an Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas, in which he wrote:

As one source with knowledge of the inner workings of the process told PFT on Sunday, a decision is expected within the next six to nine months.

Okay, that doesn’t tell us much. Except that since Las Vegas officials were counting on a relocation vote at the league owners’ meetings in January, there is now much freaking out:

Yeah, that’s not actually what Florio said at all. The league owners could delay a vote until mid-2017, or they could vote sooner than that. They could demand a sky-high relocation fee, or they could not. All we know right now is that some NFL guy Mike Florio knows doesn’t know what’s going to happen or when, which puts him in the same boat as the rest of us.

In other news, Raiders owner Mark Davis has said he intends to keep the team in Oakland for two more seasons, but also is reportedly looking at playing temporarily at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas, and given that he has options to play at the Coliseum the next two seasons but also can opt out of them, this also tells us absolutely nothing. Except that everyone involved seems to be intent on keeping their options — and leverage — open, all of which is to be expected. Except for that “purple monkey dishwasher” remark.

Nevada assembly loses mind, okays $750m to move Raiders to Vegas, bring imaginary tourists

On Friday morning, after a 17-hour session the previous day followed by a morning of behind-the-scenes haggling, the Nevada state assembly voted 28-13 to approve a $750-million-plus package of subsidies for a new Oakland Raiders stadium in Las Vegas. The bill now goes to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who will sign it into law today.

If you can do math, you’ve already noted that that 28-13 margin is the barest margin needed for a two-thirds majority, which is what was required for the state legislature to raise hotel taxes 0.88% to fund the stadium. So what did those swing voters get in exchange for their flip-flop?

The amendment to the bill passed by the Assembly expanded the Stadium Authority Board to nine members from seven, adding another representative from Clark County and one from UNLV. The amendment also defines the rent to be charged to the university to use the stadium to “actual operational or pass-through costs” excluding any fixed costs on game or event days. UNLV also gets three additional event days, for graduations or other events.

So basically, legislators’ price for approving $750 million (at least — more on that in a moment) in taxpayer subsidies for Raiders owner Mark Davis and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was to give UNLV a marginally better lease and another seat on the stadium board. We’ll likely never know exactly what went on in negotiations — as soon as the assembly session reopened on Friday morning, the question was called and a vote was held with no public debate at all — but it was clearly some of the worst haggling ever: Michelle Spence-Jones, the Miami county commissioner who got more than $100 million in community development money in exchange for approving the Marlins‘ stadium subsidy in 2009, has to be laughing and laughing at her pathetic Nevada counterparts.

The deal was immediately savaged by both the 13 “no” voters (“What you saw today is why people are so cynical about government because the big power players got their way and the real losers are the Nevada taxpayers,” said Republican Ira Hansen; “This deal as presented, SB1, is structured in ways that all other sports subsidies have been structured and they just have not come out in the wash,” added his Democratic colleague Teresa Benitez-Thompson) and sports economists, who universally shook their heads in dismay that Nevada was even considering this level of subsidy. Stanford economist Roger Noll called it the worst deal he’s ever seen, noting that Adelson and Davis are projecting 33% of tickets going to tourists when no other NFL team even manages 10%: “The idea that the thing is going to pay for itself based on a huge inflow of tourists is crazy.” And Smith College economist Andy Zimbalist, who I’ve criticized in the past for changing his opinions depending on who’s paying his fees but who at least knows how math works, gave a cogent explanation of why increased taxes on hotel visitors count as public money:

“The first thing that could happen is because hotel prices go up, individuals and businesses will decided it’s priced itself out of the market and they’ll do their conventions or meetings somewhere else,” he said. “In that case, you actually reduce tourism.”

“The other possibility is tourists don’t care,” Zimbalist continued. “If they’re going to pay $200, they’ll also pay $205 or $210 a night and they’ll come anyway. If that’s true, then you can raise your hotel taxes and raise revenue either to provide additional social services – put it into the schools, put it into the roads, put it into the police – or you could use it to lower taxes. Either way, the hotel tax is a real tax and it taxes people in Las Vegas.”

And, as we’ve been over before, the $750 million in bonds to be repaid out of hotel tax money are not the only public gift being provided to Davis and Adelson. They’ll also be getting the benefit of $899 million in highway improvements that will be fast-tracked because of the stadium — whether they’re all directly stadium-related and not just state transportation department wishlist material is questionable, but it’s been made clear that other Vegas highway projects will be delayed as a result, since the newly sped-up projects will drain the state’s fund of gas tax money — plus possibly future public money for maintenance and operating expenses on the stadium: From what I can tell from the text of the bill, who’ll pay ongoing costs is punted to a lease that hasn’t been written yet, and given that Adelson’s Las Vegas Review-Journal has reported (no source cited) that the public will be on the hook for those items, this could easily add hundreds of millions of dollars more to the final taxpayer bill.

The only people who can save Nevada from this expense now are the other 31 NFL owners, who need to decide whether to turn down the richest subsidy offer in league history, or whether to allow a franchise to move from the nation’s 6th largest TV market to its 40th largest. Or they also have the option of approving the move, but attaching an exorbitant relocation fee to try to get a cut of the boodle for themselves. There are many, many options, and given past evidence that NFL owners make these decisions exactly like you’d expect a bunch of cliquey billionaires to make them, anything is possible, really.

Nevadans shouldn’t get their hopes up too far, though, as even if they don’t end up afflicted with the presence of the Raiders and that $750-million-plus bill, the legislation passed on Friday allows the state to spend $380 million on a new stadium just for UNLV. Because you just know that once fans of rival Mountain West Conference teams hear that UNLV has a new stadium, they’ll decide that it’s finally time to give that Vegas place a try as a vacation spot. It’ll be a win-win!

Vegas stadium could cost public $1.65B with highway upgrades, assembly postpones vote

The Nevada state assembly met yesterday as planned to discuss a $750 million stadium subsidy to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas — but, not as planned, adjourned for the night after 1 am, following a 17-hour marathon session that didn’t result in the required two-thirds majority for the measure. The unexpected holdup: the emergence of a report by the state transportation department that it would need at least $899 million in highway upgrades to accommodate a new NFL stadium.

After the hearing ended just after 1 a.m., Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said late news of the report made passage of the stadium proposal more difficult….

Assistant Majority Floor Leader Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said after 9 p.m. that the bill was just short of the support needed for passage. There were 17 solid yes votes for the plan in the 25-member Republican Assembly caucus, and an estimated 10 votes in the 17-member Democratic caucus, Hansen said. The bill needs 28 votes, a two-thirds supermajority, to pass and advance to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s desk.

Whether the additional $899 million — which would go for adding lanes to I-15 and building new carpool ramps — should be counted as a cost of the stadium project is an issue that the Nevada DOT report attempted to finesse, writing that “since the development of the transportation projects in this area of Las Vegas was already planned, there is no fiscal impact above and beyond what NDOT assumed it would deliver in southern Nevada.” However, the report also noted that the improvements weren’t otherwise scheduled to be completed until between 2020 and 2035, and haven’t yet been funded — and moving them up would require delaying other highway projects.

The assembly is set to meet again this morning, and Anderson, at least, said he was confident he could cobble together enough votes to pass the stadium bill. (If he can’t, the legislature would likely kick the proposal to the Clark County Commission to see if they could approve it instead.) The highway cost revelations seem to have thrown at least a small wrench in the works, though, as they should given the mammoth scale of the costs — another reminder that it’s really important to have a transportation plan in place before you start voting on a stadium deal, okay, people?

Nevada senate passes $750m (or more) Raiders stadium subsidy, ball could move to NFL’s court

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.

Vegas needs the NFL or else tourists will go to Dallas, and other Raiders stadium arguments

The Nevada state legislature’s special session to discuss a $750-million-plus stadium subsidy to bring the Oakland Raiders to town kicks off today, which means it’s time for boosters of the plan to pull out all the stops in arguing that this not only is a reasonable amount of money to throw at two rich guys, but an absolute no-brainer. What do you got, stadium proponents?

Sisolak apparently said this back in early September (unless he said it again this weekend, which is possible), but the Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting it as new news. Which is fine enough, because the notion that Las Vegas needs to be put on the tourist map is hilarious enough that it’s worth repeating as often as possible.

  • Brookings Mountain West (a joint project of the Brookings Institution and UNLV, which would get to use the new stadium for football games) directors Robert Lang and William Brown: “More than 42 million annual visitors also will notice what action Nevada’s leadership takes. Our core economy and the region’s standing as a global tourist and convention destination are in play.”

This seems to be a twist on Sisolak’s remarks, only implying that if Nevada doesn’t spend $750 million on a football stadium, tourists will stop visiting Vegas because they’ll think the state has bad leadership. Still reasonably hilarious!

Okay, starting to sense an agreed-upon message here: Sure, people are flocking to Las Vegas now, but if we don’t have a football stadium, they’ll have no reason not to go to Dallas instead! Why this would suddenly start happening now after decades of Dallas having a football stadium and Vegas not is anyone’s guess, but as “cold Omaha” statements go, it’s a vivid enough image, I suppose.

This is another common on-message point — McMillan makes it as well — so long as you don’t actually do the math on whether increased visitor spending on those things would be worth more than $750 million. (Spoiler: It wouldn’t.)

Anybody else?

This would give the members of my union more jobs while construction was underway — it’s narrow self-interest, but at least it’s true! We have a winner!

Not that any of these arguments are really expected to win the day on the basis of pure logic, economic or otherwise — rather, they’re intended to provide political cover for the state legislators who are going to have to explain in a few days why they approved giving three-quarters of a billion dollars in tax money to a wealthy casino owner and a not-quite-as-wealthy NFL team owner so they could build a stadium for private use. In modern political discourse, you don’t need to actually prove that the emperor has new clothes — you just need to make the case that reasonable people can disagree over the definition of nakedness.

Howie Long argues for Raiders subsidy with metaphor about SATs, doesn’t know how SATs work

With the Nevada legislature preparing to kick off its special session to consider a $750-million-plus subsidy for a stadium to lure the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, boosters of the plan have launched a PR onslaught involving, well:

  • A new name for the group of business and political leaders endorsing the deal: the Win Win Nevada Coalition, presumably because spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on a private NFL stadium would be a “win-win” (which really should have a hyphen), or because Nevada gambling is all about winning (even though most gamblers lose), or because something about one of these.
  • Former Raiders star Howie Long, who knows something about leaving Oakland in search of more money, having done so with the Raiders when the team moved to Los Angeles after his rookie season. Long explained at a rally the logic of moving the Raiders to Vegas: “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 14 times since I’ve landed. To me, this is a no-brainer. This is like a trick SAT question: ‘Spell cat,’ and I’m saying, ‘Where’s the trick here? Where’s the problem?’” None of which means anything, but I’m especially intrigued by the idea of an SAT question asking for the spelling of “cat,” since the SAT is a written test, so test takers would be reading and … you get the picture. (Unless you’re Howie Long, I guess.)
  • A column in would-be stadium subsidy recipient Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Review-Journal that acknowledges that there are lots of legitimate questions to be asked about the stadium deal, but this could be the only opportunity to throw this much money at the Raiders, so “pumping the brakes isn’t an option.”

No, the level of political debate in the U.S. is not good at all. Added to the statements by the anti-stadium side last week, it’s clear that we’ve entered into the “see who can shout louder in hopes that the legislature will listen to them” phase of the discourse, and while you can hope for one side or the other to prevail, watching it unfold is going to be ugly regardless.

Church group, economist, maybe NFL oppose Raiders stadium in Vegas

Man, take one morning off to go on the radio to talk about my new book (skip ahead to the 1:31 mark to hear my segment), and all hell breaks loose in the Oakland Raiders-to-Las Vegas situation. Admittedly, more hell breaking loose in terms of dramatic headlines than actual developments, but sometimes the war for headlines is the ones that counts in stadium deals, so let’s get to it:

How all this will affect the Nevada legislature when it meets in special session next week is anybody’s guess. Though there’s another wild card here, which is the NFL itself — there’s been speculation of late that not all the owners would be thrilled with approving a Raiders move to Vegas, even coming with that $750 million subsidy (which would help Davis and Adelson more than the NFL as a whole, except of course for upping the ante for cities to have to offer to attract or retain teams). Or that could just be what the NFL wants us to think, so that it can try to draw Oakland back into a bidding war for the Raiders’ services. There are too many people with their own interests who could be spreading rumors here, and since rumors is all we have, it’s tough to predict the outcome — except that if the collective 32 NFL owners have their way, somebody is going to get shaken down for nine figures worth of stadium, and ideally it’s not gonna be them.

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.