CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Nevada Legislature has signed off on a plan that would use $750 million in public money to build an NFL stadium in Las Vegas, despite opposition to a project partly funded by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.
A cadre of lobbyists for the project worked hard to firm up enough of the shaky votes to meet the necessary two-thirds threshold and scraped by with the minimum amount of support Friday when lawmakers called for a quick vote without the customary speeches. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who’s been supportive of the project, is expected to sign the deal Monday in Las Vegas.
“It’s exciting,” said Andy Abboud, chief lobbyist for casino mogul Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, after the sudden vote. “But this is really about jobs, and I think at the end of the day people saw this as a fantastic economic stimulus package.”
The Nevada Senate gave final approval to some minor changes, after the Assembly voted 28-13 and the Senate voted 16-5 in favor of the bill. The measure would raise hotel taxes by up to 1.4 percentage points in the Las Vegas area to fund a convention center expansion and build a 65,000-seat domed stadium backers hope will lure the Oakland Raiders.
“I would like to thank Gov. Sandoval, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, and the members of the Nevada Legislature on this historic day,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement. “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.”
Nine Democrats and four Republicans in the Assembly opposed the bill in the, which made unlikely allies out of people on the far left and far right of the political spectrum.
The project was nearly derailed late Thursday by a state report that said the Nevada Department of Transportation wants to accelerate nearly $900 million in planned road work to accommodate stadium-related traffic. Lawmakers, who hadn’t been warned about the estimate during routine discussions on the project, said they felt blindsided.
Transportation officials clarified that the projects were already planned and wouldn’t require raising additional revenue.
Critics also decried the rushed deal, which is happening in an abbreviated special session rather than the four-month regular session next spring, and complained that the Legislature was applying new tax revenue to a stadium instead of reserving it to alleviate an anticipated state budget shortfall.
“We are funding luxury items before we’re taking care of our needs,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, who opposed the deal. “I don’t let that happen in my home and I’m not going to let it happen … in this house.”
The public contribution will be larger in raw dollars than for any other NFL stadium, although the public’s share of the costs — 39 percent — is smaller than for stadiums in cities of a similar size, such as Indianapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Critics pointed out that some outside economists, including Stanford professor and sports economist Roger Noll, have panned the deal as a boondoggle based on outlandish financial expectations.
Defenders of the stadium say Las Vegas’ outsized tourism economy, with 150,000 hotel rooms and 42 million visitors each year, is different than other markets that are more dependent on locals and where stadiums are more likely to cannibalize other businesses.
“If we take the visitor component out of our economic impact model, it is negative,” said economist Jeremy Aguero, who helped develop the deal. “I do not disagree with the analyses that have been done … It’s inappropriately applied here.”
Proponents project 451,000 new visitors will come to Las Vegas as a result of the stadium, ushering in $620 million in economic impact. That’s based on the stadium hosting 46 events, including 10 NFL games, 6 UNLV football games and a variety of concerts, sports and other events.
Laborers and veterans testified that they needed the estimated 25,000 construction jobs the project will bring after the industry was devastated in the recession. The stadium is expected to bring 14,000 permanent jobs to the Las Vegas area.
The total deal also sends $420 million for convention center improvements aimed at keeping Las Vegas’ lucrative convention industry competitive.
The hotel bill for an average-price night at a Las Vegas Strip hotel would go up about $1.50 as a result.
NFL owners would still need to vote by a three-fourths majority to allow the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas.
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