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The Las Vegas Raiders: A Tale of Mark Davis’s Bluff That Could Become a Reality

On Friday, Oakland Raiders owner, and Lloyd Christmas haircut twin, Mark Davis met with Sheldon Adelson, the Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. The Sands Corporation, which owns the Venetian and Palazzo resorts in Las Vegas, confirmed the meeting by tweeting a photo of Adelson and Davis and saying that the parties were “[l]ooking forward to future considerations.” Just what do those “considerations” entail? The Sands Corporation and a consortium of investors plan to build a domed “state-of-the-art stadium” on the UNLV campus,[1] and intend to entice an NFL team such as Mr. Davis’s Raiders to play there. There is clearly some mutual interest on Davis’s side, especially since the Raiders’ lease with its current home, the unfortunately named O.Co Coliseum, will end on February 17

A vice president for the Sands Corporation has indicated it will build the stadium, which will serve as the home of the UNLV football team and host other high-profile events, regardless of whether an NFL teams moves to Las Vegas. But one can’t help but wonder if the project is contingent on an NFL team setting up shop in Sin City.

Las Vegas and the NFL: A Tenuous Relationship

At first glance, an NFL team in Las Vegas seems fun, intriguing, sexy, and a money-maker for all involved. Add to that the fact that the move would not require additional taxpayer-funded subsidies since the stadium would be financed by private investors, and the move seems to make all the sense in the world. But until just recently, an NFL team in Las Vegas seemed an improbable proposition due to the legality of sports gambling in Nevada.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is on record stating that NFL opposes legalized betting because it could affect the integrity of the game, and an NFL spokesperson has said it is unlikely the league would host even an exhibition or Pro Bowl game in Las Vegas for this reason. The league even nixed a fantasy football convention to be hosted by Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo last year at a non-gambling facility in Las Vegas. Of course, this position seems incredibly hypocritical when one considers the fact that the NFL has no problem hosting regular season games in England, where sports betting is legal and daily fantasy sports like DraftKings is considered gambling.[2]

So if it was this unlikely the NFL would ever approve a move by the Raiders to Las Vegas before the Davis-Adleson meeting on Friday, what’s the point? It was likely another move by the Raiders to coax the city of Oakland into subsidizing a new stadium for the Raiders to replace the aging Coliseum. The Raiders were already one of three teams that applied for a move to Los Angeles, with the Rams (and to a lesser extent, the Chargers) winning that bid. There have also been rumors in the past few weeks about a potential move to San Antonio–where the Alamodome sits waiting for an NFL team–or San Diego if the Chargers exercise their option to move to Los Angeles along with the Rams.

The Bluff that Could Become a Winning Hand

But for all the past negativity the NFL has shown towards Vegas, there have been signs since the Davis-Adelson meeting that Goodell and the NFL may be softening their stance. Soon after the meeting on Friday, the NFL issued a memo which addressed the proposed stadium and clarified that “[t]here is no prohibition under league rules on a team moving to any particular city. Any proposal for relocation would be evaluated based on the same standard as apply to any proposed move.” Goodell followed that up by going on the Rich Eisen Show on Tuesday and telling Eisen that whether a team would be allowed to move to Las Vegas would ultimately be up to the owners of the 32 NFL teams. He said he would not stand in the way of owners making the decision, but he did reference “specific issues” (see legalized gambling) that the NFL would need to address if a team wanted to move to Las Vegas.

It’s too early to know what has brought about this apparent newfound openness towards the prospect of an NFL moving to Las Vegas. It’s also too early to know how the 31 teams that are not the Raiders view a potential move, or if Goodell would ultimately change his tune and rally the owners to block the move.

For their part, Mark Davis and the Raiders would likely prefer to stay in the Bay Area. The Raiders have already all but agreed to extend their lease with the Coliseum for the upcoming 2016 season. And if Goodell told the truth in his interview with Eisen, Davis told Goodell he wants the Raiders to stay in the Bay Area and get a “long-term solution” worked out. But such a “long-term solution” would almost certainly require either Oakland or another Bay Area city to subsidize a new stadium, a prospect which seems just as unlikely as it has for several years now. For that reason, a move to Las Vegas to play in a privately-funded stadium that may be built even without an NFL team seems increasingly attractive. Even a move to the Alamodome in San Antonio seems possible, though it remains to be seen whether NFL owners (Jerry Jones in particular) would allow for a third NFL team to come to Texas.

In the end, it is difficult to handicap what will happen with the Raiders after the 2016 season, as there are many storylines that need to play out before we can be more certain.[3] I am still inclined to bet that a move to Las Vegas probably won’t ever happen under Roger Goodell’s watch. But in the game of poker the Raiders are playing with Oakland, it’s not surprising that Mark Davis would use Sin City as his latest bluff.

[1] The UNLV Foundation purchased the 42 acres of land on which the stadium would sit for $50 million in early January 2016.

[2] The NFL signed a deal with DraftKings that allows the fantasy sports outfit to post advertisements in Wembley Stadium, where the games are played in England, but does not allow them to be displayed in an area where U.S. viewers will be able to see them on TV at home.

[3] Such story lines would include if and how soon the Las Vegas stadium would be built, how Oakland and other cities in the Bay Area react to the possibility of a Raiders move to Las Vegas, whether a deal could be worked out under which the Raiders share Levi’s Stadium with the 49ers, etc.

About John Sigety

John lives in Frisco, Texas and works as a commercial litigator for Hiersche, Hayward, Drakeley & Urbach, P.C., a full-service firm located near Dallas, Texas. John graduated from Tulane University Law School in 2012 with a certificate in Sports Law. He also served as a managing editor for The Sports Lawyers Journal and published an article in the Willamette Sports Law Journal entitled The Cost of Fair Play: An Examination of How Salary Cap Proposals Have Affected Past Collective Bargaining Agreements and Will Affect the Coming NBA Bargaining Negotiations. John graduated from Brigham Young University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

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NFL owners are meeting in Phoenix this week, and all signs suggest they will vote to approve the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas today, March 27. Although $750 million in public funds to build a state-of-the-art stadium in Sin City does sound really nice, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, the decision to allow the Raiders to move Las Vegas would be, a terribly short-sighted action that is more likely to fail miserably than succeed.

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