By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Columnist
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A town built on losers is about to become a big winner in the NFL relocation sweepstakes.
And Sundays in Sin City may never be the same.
What seemed unimaginable to most just a year ago is about to become a reality. NFL owners appear poised to accept a $750 million gift from taxpayers and vote Monday to allow the Raiders to move from Oakland to a new stadium to be built just off the Las Vegas Strip.
The same league that treated Las Vegas with disdain for so many years is ready to embrace it now. And that says as much about the changing mores of sports betting as it does about the fact NFL owners start salivating like Pavlovian dogs when someone else is paying for a glittering new stadium.
It was just a few years ago, the NFL refused to allow the city to even advertise on the Super Bowl telecast for fear of contaminating the game. Now it won’t be long before fans can place a bet on the Raiders, then meander over to the stadium to see if it pays off.
The NFL is a bit late to the party, with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights beginning play this year as the first major sports franchise in this gambling city. But the Raiders moving here would not only give the city one of the premier sports attractions in the country but could help legitimize sports betting across the country.
“The integrity of the game will not be in question because it’s in Las Vegas,” said Steve Sisolak, a county commissioner who has been involved in the effort to lure the Raiders from Oakland. “The NFL has realized that betting exists everywhere and it’s not a risk.”
What would be a risk, NFL owners now seem to realize, would be turning down the $750 million in tourist taxes Las Vegas is offering up for the new stadium. The Raiders weren’t about to get that kind of money in Oakland, despite a last minute pitch by former player Ronnie Lott and Oakland’s mayor to keep the team.
Even Roger Goodell realized that, after years of dismissing the idea of Las Vegas ever being suitable as an NFL city. Goodell still finds it hard to embrace Las Vegas, but the owners he works for see dollar signs in the city instead of moral roadblocks — especially now that casino owner Sheldon Adelson is out of the picture.
Enamored with the idea of a stadium as his legacy, it was Adelson who pushed the $750 million in new taxes through a special session of the state legislature. But the NFL drew a line in the sand when it came to a casino owner being involved with a team, and Adelson was pushed to the sidelines by Raiders owner Mark Davis.
There is still work to be done, assuming at least 24 owners do as expected and vote for the move to Las Vegas. There’s a stadium to be built just off the glitzy Strip, and an agreement that needs to be reached on how much it is going to cost and how it will be operated.
The Raiders could still be in Oakland another two to three years, though there is some talk about renovating the aging 40,000-seat stadium the UNLV football team plays in so the move could be made earlier. When they do move, it will be to a smaller market (Las Vegas is the No. 40 television market in the country, while the Bay Area is No. 6) with a population of 2.2 million that has yet to show it can support a sports franchise.
But the Raiders brand transcends Oakland, and will be a perfect fit in a city where almost anbything goes. With projections that a third of the 65,000 seats will be filled every game day by tourists, the city’s airport on football weekends figures to be a colorful place.
Indeed, the case could be made that the Raiders have a lot better chance succeeding in Las Vegas than the Chargers do as the No. 2 team in largely apathetic Los Angeles.
“There are meaningful potential downsides,” said Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant who has been involved with a number of NFL stadium projects. “But for the most part they’re negated by the lack of options in Oakland. I can’t imagine too many owners are happy with situation but they also know there’s not an alternative for their partners.”
No real alternative for the Raiders means there’s no pot of gold for them to remain in Oakland. So the NFL will risk alienating fans once again by having a third team move in a little more than a year.
Still, few doubt the Raiders are about ready to hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.
You can bet on it.