Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 | 1:01 p.m.
We’ve been down this road before: A professional sports franchise on unsteady footing in its home facility starts poking around Las Vegas.
When Oscar Goodman was mayor of this city, he talked to several major league organizations about moving to Las Vegas. Time after time, those teams wound up staying put, as owners were able to hasten agreeable lease deals with their home cities.
We might call it being used as a bargaining chip or being a “political football.” Whatever the case, Las Vegas officials often felt gamed, justifiably, in its unending hunt for a major professional sports team.
The list of pro franchises to talk with Goodman included the San Diego Chargers, Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins and Chicago White Sox.
With Goodman making significant progress with then-NBA Commissioner David Stern, speculation surfaced that the L.A. Clippers and Sacramento Kings (both of whom were in arena negotiations at the time) would uproot in favor of Las Vegas. This was years before the NHL became the most likely league to operate here with the development of T-Mobile Arena.
On Thursday, it was reported that Las Vegas Sands is proposing a 65,000-seat, $1 billion domed stadium on Tropicana Avenue east of MGM Grand and west of the UNLV campus on a 42-acre parcel purchased by the university for $50 million in a transaction announced Jan. 20.
Sands officials, including company founder Sheldon Adelson, are reportedly meeting with Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis today in Las Vegas to knock around the idea of moving that team to Las Vegas.
The Raiders have not even committed to playing in Oakland in the 2016 season and were considered a candidate to move back to L.A. before the Rams’ move from St. Louis for 2016 was announced.
The San Diego Chargers, which spoke with Goodman about a possible move in 2004, are the other team approved to move to L.A. The Raiders could still move there if the Chargers decline, and the Raiders have not committed to playing in Oakland in the upcoming season, as their contract at the O.co Coliseum is expiring in February. Even before Las Vegas appeared as a possible option for a move by the team, Davis has said staying in Oakland for even one more year is a guarantee.
So here we go again.
When Goodman heard all of this, he was about to host one of his speaker-series dinner events at his Oscar’s Beef Booze & Broads at the Plaza. After dinner, he joked — or maybe half-joked — that he was afraid to go home because his wife, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, would be in a foul mood after hearing this news — she has tried to make a deal for a stadium in Las Vegas, at the Cashman Stadium site and also at Symphony Park, to lure professional soccer to the region, only to fall short.
This morning, we talked of the city’s history — and his own — of chasing pro sports franchises. Is this Raiders overture to be taken seriously?
“Yes, because we’re dealing with a very serious player. When Sheldon says he’s interested in something, he is serious about at least exploring the concept very thoroughly,” Goodman said. “This might be the first steps to doing something that will really happen, not the bait-and-switch that we’ve seen with teams talking to me with the sole purpose of making an arena deal in their home city.”
Most recently, over the summer, the Milwaukee Bucks were said to be considering a move to the new arena on the Strip if the Wisconsin Senate could not approve funding for a new arena. Soon after the Las Vegas interest went public, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, who had sold the team to a pair of hedge-fund managers on the condition that it stay in Milwaukee, pledged $100 million of his own money to keep the team from moving — ostensibly to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas has always held great appeal as an NFL city because of its capacity to host major events. But the great roadblock has always been Las Vegas’ open sports books. The NFL is allergic to the specter of wagering, legal or otherwise, on its games.
Goodman was in office when the league refused to air commercials produced by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority during the Super Bowl — sorry, Big Game.
The league did not like, and does not like, being formally connected to Las Vegas because of its gaming culture.
“These commercials were turned down just because they were about Las Vegas,” Goodman recalled. “They didn’t have anything to do with gambling.”
Goodman says the issue has long been addressed with NBA officials, including Stern in his stewardship and current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. During his tenure as mayor, Goodman also said he spoke with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, noting, “He also told me that betting was not an issue.”
“We have matured to the point that we should not be making concessions on making bets on NFL games, if it comes to that,” Goodman said. “It would be absolutely hypocritical for Las Vegas, as the gaming capital of the world, where we maintain integrity and honesty in taking bets on professional sports, to make a tacit agreement that all of sudden, somehow, legal sports betting is bad.”
What if league owners were to require the closing of legal betting on NFL games as a condition of moving a team here?
“In my opinion, we should never agree to that,” Goodman said. “We are the ones who make sure sports betting and sports books are kept honest, and we should never apologize for that. And let’s face it, the NFL would not be nearly as popular as it is today without legal betting. It has become a big part of the league’s success.”
A couple of years ago, after he’d left office, Goodman met with Mark Davis at Oscar’s. The son of legendary Raiders owner Al Davis, Mark Davis recalled that his father loved Las Vegas and actually wanted to play an exhibition game at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The late Bob Blum, a UNLV sports broadcaster in his later years who had worked for Davis as a Raiders play-by-play man, also had told Goodman of this idea.
“This was a meet-and-greet talk, over cocktails, with Mark and a couple of executives, and it was clear that Mark had adopted his father’s position about Las Vegas,” Goodman said.
Naturally, Goodman does have some action on the Super Bowl, or Big Game.
“I got the Panthers at minus-4,” he said. “That line is moving, too, with all the money coming in on Carolina. If it goes to 7, I might take Denver and try to ‘middle’ the Super Bowl. That would be something, right?”
Right. But the line on the Las Vegas Raiders home opener, whenever that might be, is yet to be posted.