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July 21, 2017

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Local sports books cheer on Raiders’ move to Las Vegas

NFL coming to town helps de-stigmatize sports betting

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Steve Marcus

Trucks decorated by the Laborers Union, Local 872, are parked in the median of Las vegas Boulevard South near the Welcome to Las Vegas sign as NFL owners in Phoenix voted to approve a Raiders move to Las Vegas Monday, March 27, 2017.

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Laborers Union members, Local 872, cheer for a television camera by the Welcome to Las Vegas sign after NFL owners in Phoenix voted to approve a Raiders move to Las Vegas Monday, March 27, 2017. Launch slideshow »

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A look at the proposed $1.9 billion domed football stadium for the Oakland Raiders and UNLV football in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

From helping pass legislation prohibiting sports betting in all but a few states to threatening casinos for using the words “Super Bowl” to promote their, um, “big game” parties, the NFL has a long-contentious history with Las Vegas.

The relationship was so toxic that, even as recently as a few years ago, most veterans in the sports betting industry couldn’t envision a scenario where the league would bring a team to the city. South Point sports book spokesman Jimmy Vaccaro, who’s worked as a bookmaker in town for more than 40 years, was among the few who always considered something like the Raiders relocating to Las Vegas possible.

“What did Pink Floyd say? We were just another brick in the wall,” Vaccaro said after the league’s owners approved the Raiders’ 2020 move Monday in Phoenix. “It was a very big wall and it took a long time to break down, but we’re here now and it’s a great day for Las Vegas.”

Bookmakers reacted to the news with as much contentment as the Raiders’ local fan base. The NFL’s stance against legalized sports betting frustrated those in the gaming industry for years.

Attempts from casino executives to educate not only the NFL but also all major professional sports leagues on their mutual interest in keeping the integrity of games intact were continually ignored. With NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still outspoken against gambling, there remains progress to be made.

But the Raiders joining the NHL’s Golden Knights to make Las Vegas a two-sport major league city shows some of the sports-betting stigma has faded.

“This is further evidence that the myth that legalized sports betting somehow hurts the game is nothing more than fake news,” William Hill CEO Joe Asher said in a statement.

The NFL could cut into the casinos' celebration by requesting that the Raiders not be available for betting. If the Nevada Gaming Control Board passed such a rule, no games involving the Raiders — home or away — would be allowed to post on any betting board in the state.

But casino owners would almost surely object, and many in the industry don’t believe it will come to that anyway. There was no indication of the NFL seeking any injunction yesterday in Phoenix, as Raiders President Marc Badain described gambling as something that's, "been addressed."

“That’s something we’ve been working on for the last eight or nine months,” Badain said. “We’ve had conversations with the league, we’ve had conversations with Bo Bernhard at the (UNLV) gaming institute. He’s provided some materials that were very helpful in answering some questions from the ownership."

The NHL didn't attempt to implement any sort of sports-betting ban ahead of the Golden Knights beginning play in October either, and the NFL could find it similarly unnecessary.

“People have started to see that’s way behind the times,” Vaccaro said. “You can feel the energy changing.”

If that’s written off as Vaccaro being too optimistic, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s heard that criticism. When the Raiders first announced their intentions to move to Las Vegas, most didn’t take it seriously and viewed it as nothing more than a ploy in a battle to get a new stadium in Oakland.

Vaccaro, on the other hand, immediately said he thought it might happen and made the imaginary odds 3-to-1. He was mocked for that comment, the recipient of as many sidelong glances as he was throughout the 1980s and 1990s when he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a day when professional sports franchises would call the valley home.

“I just had a gut feeling that what too many people thought was wrong,” he said. “Don’t follow everyone just because you’re thinking something differently. It was just a feeling, so if you’re looking for a genius, there was no genius behind it. I believed in this, and it’s nothing but an absolute positive, and long overdue to finally happen.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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