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Nevada Lawmakers OK Biggest Public Sports Subsidy in American History to Woo Raiders

Nevada state Sen. Ruben Kihuen wasn’t buying it from the beginning. There was no way he was going to vote for putting a bet with nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money on the table to attract the Oakland Raiders NFL franchise to Las Vegas.

But Kihuen and others who fought against the $750 million package were defeated Oct. 14. The proposal, which was approved first by the state Senate, was able to pick up the final two-thirds majority needed in the Assembly to win final approval.

The Legislature also approved a $400 million public financing plan to improve and expand the Las Vegas Convention Center.

It’s not that Kihuen doesn’t like the NFL or the game of football. As a matter of fact, the Democrat described himself, in a Las Vegas Sun guest column, as a Raiders fan who would like nothing more than to steal the Raiders away from Oakland.

“What I am opposed to is asking taxpayers to shoulder $750 million of the cost, especially as a handout to one of the wealthiest people in the world,” Kihuen wrote. “Sheldon Adelson could easily pay for the entire stadium himself; if he wants the profits, he should be expected to bear more of the cost.”

Adelson was the driving force behind the creation of a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat, domed stadium. He has pledged $650 million of his own money. The Raiders have promised to put another $500 million into the project, which will result in a new home for the NFL team that would be shared by the UNLV football team.

The $750 million public financing package for the new stadium is the largest taxpayer subsidy ever for an American pro sports franchise.

Proponents of building the football stadium boasted their plan would boost the Las Vegas and Nevada economies by $620 million annually.

Kihuen branded that assertion as both “absurd” and “unrealistic.”

“They offer a false promise,” Kihuen added. “As we’ve seen in most other cities, the real impact is a short-term boost in construction jobs, followed by a marginal increase in economic activity and low-wage jobs.”

However, the most powerful casino bosses in Vegas lined up to testify for the plan five days before the final vote.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Steve Wynn told legislators he had never seen one idea in his half-century in the Vegas gaming business that would have such a positive impact on the tourism industry.

“If the NFL and the Raiders come because we build the stadium, and we won’t build the stadium unless they’re coming, for the first time in modern history the National Football League has signaled a willingness to allow the team to transfer,” Wynn said.

“My friend Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft and others with whom I have a personal relationship have told me the NFL is ready to do it if Nevada steps up in Las Vegas with a stadium,” he added.

Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, said, “We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.”

“We’ve been offered a gift here,” former Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, who is now an executive, said. “We’ve been offered a gift that takes us from 45 million visitors to 55, to 65 million visitors.”

Maybe so. But NFL owners are going to have something to say about this.

Twenty-four of the league’s 32 owners will have to OK the deal if the Raiders are to move. Various sports media outlets have reported some of those owners, perhaps a majority, still don’t like the idea of an NFL franchise setting up shop in what is seen as the nation’s capital of legalized gambling.

But that anti-Vegas attitude may be softening.

“Now, when I came into the league 23 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have supported a team being in Las Vegas,” influential New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the NFL Network. “I think the way things have evolved and the way things are at with the Internet and access that everyone has to everything, I think this would be a positive move for the Raiders if they can’t stay in their home territory.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones assured the Nevada Legislature that wouldn’t be a problem.

Raiders owner Mark Davis seems sure his team will be moving to Las Vegas.

“All parties have worked extremely hard to develop and approve this tremendous stadium project that will serve as a proud new home for the entire Raider Nation,” Davis said in a statement after the Nevada Legislature approved the $750 million stadium package.

But what about Oakland? That’s a city that rejected the idea of putting public money into a new stadium for the Raiders. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city would try one last time to keep the team from moving to Las Vegas.

“There is a long and complicated history between this team and this city,” she said. “We’ve learned from the mistakes of the past and we won’t repeat them. Oakland is neither rolling over, nor giving up.”