For decades, Las Vegas has been debated as a possible home for a pro football team. Certainly it’s long had the money. It’s where money goes to die. It’s a mid-sized city, but as big as some other NFL venues. Oakland for example.
There hasn’t been much question that an NFL team would prosper in Vegas. There are so many rich sports fans in the gambling (excuse me, gaming) mecca that even the USA’s No. 4 team sport, hockey, is likely to thrive there.
By the way, the Golden Knights of the National Hockey League are financing their stadium the right way: paying for it themselves.
In the 1990s, more than a few sports writers were speculating on Vegas as a future home for an NFL franchise. But when Paul Tagliabue was asked if he’d favor such a development, he looked incredulous. The usually polite commissioner said: “Are you an idiot?”
A year ago, Tagliabue’s successor, the Teflon don, Roger Goodell, was following precedent, dismissing Vegas as a possible NFL outpost because “we’re very much opposed to gambling on sports.”
But his attitude began shifting the more he talked with owners, especially Jerry Jones, who, coincidentally, is a major shareholder in a company that will do the bulk of the marketing for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Make no mistake, Vegas is a gold mine. Nowhere else in the world can you legally place a hundred-dollar bet on a football game and then walk to your seat where it’s about to be played. How could a business like this fail?
Which does make you wonder: Did Vegas really have to offer $175 million in tax revenues to entice the NFL to invest in their city?
But of course, the tax is not paid directly by the citizens. It’s paid by the tourists. Like they don’t already pay the highest hotel tax in the country:12.5% plus a $25 “Resort Fee.” In case you’re wondering, the Resort Fee does not mean there’s a golf course nearby or a beach within 200 miles.
Not that I’m entirely cynical about Vegas. In my opinion it’s the most entertaining city in America. It makes New Orleans, the USA’s Second Most Sinful City, look sleepy. Vegas is Adult Disneyland. It’s more electric, more lit-up, more fun, than Manhattan, and its restaurants are almost as good.
I won’t get into all the less savory entertainment it offers, but Tagliabue and the early Goodell saw the red flags.
Young men bestowed with sudden wealth explore a city where they can buy any fantasy there is.
A “dangerous” place, Brandon Marshall, wide receiver/TV commentator, was warning in January on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. “I think that people need to talk about player safety, and what can happen if a player is in Las Vegas.”
At the owners’ meetings in Phoenix last week, where the Raiders’ move was approved 31-1, Marshall said: “I think it could be a tough place for a kid coming out of college . . . There’s access to so much. There’s a Strip . . . and it can be overwhelming for young, immature players.”
And another fear lurks, an unmentionable one: point-shaving. You think that’s never happened in the NFL?
There is the danger that a player – not necessarily a young one – will find himself mired in financial trouble – perhaps caused by gambling addiction. So he bets against his own team.
Perhaps not a player but a referee.
Since the beginning of sports books, the NFL has prohibited its officials from visiting Vegas during the football season. Even in the off-season they are required to notify the league office before going there. And they’re banned from visiting the bookmakers at any time.
Yes I know you don’t have to be in Vegas to shave points or make a huge bet. I understand the argument that if a player wants to wager on a football game, a Vegas casino is the last place he would choose to do it.
But nowhere else in this country is addiction of all kinds so exploitable. Isn’t this where Johnny Manziel fell into ruin?
Here Johnny Football found bars with no last call. Oxygen pumped into the lobby to enhance the giddiness. Hookers and hucksters strolling the boulevard all night and into the dawn.
This is con-man paradise. Pardon me for being Cassandra, but I think the NFL will find that a team in Vegas is, at best, a mixed blessing. Not a bright idea.
Alan Truex formerly covered the NFL for the Atlanta Journal and Houston Chronicle.