Pat Sullivan / AP
Friday, April 15, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Gov. Brian Sandoval says he believes Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is seriously interested in moving the team to Las Vegas, and the governor is all for it.
Sandoval recently met with Davis, and he told the Las Vegas Sun in an interview on Wednesday that the encounter left a good impression on him. Although the governor wouldn't discuss details of his private conversation with Davis, he said the meeting was arranged in order to get a sense of "how earnest (Davis) is about coming" to Las Vegas, and that he was "incredibly impressed" by their conversation.
Davis has faced speculation that he's not sincere about the possible move to Las Vegas, but rather is trying to use the city as leverage to entice officials in California to approve public funding for a new stadium there.
His conversations in Las Vegas have centered on a proposal from Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian and Palazzo resorts on the Strip, and Majestic Realty Co. to build a $1.3 billion stadium on a 42-acre parcel of land along Tropicana Avenue near Koval Lane. UNLV bought the land earlier this year.
If it comes to fruition, the stadium would house UNLV football games and other large events, but talk of the Raiders also playing there has dominated the public discourse about the project since it came to light. Davis met with Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson the day after the company revealed it wanted to build the stadium, and he’s since met with Sandoval and toured Sam Boyd Stadium with officials from UNLV.
The Raiders possibility has been received well by residents and public officials excited by the idea of bringing an NFL franchise to a metropolitan area that has no major league sports teams. But it has also been met with a fair amount of criticism, particularly since Sands and Majestic want a portion of the project’s price tag to be covered by public funds.
Early reports pegged the public share of the cost at about $780 million, although Majestic Realty executive Craig Cavileer did not commit to a specific figure during a public appearance last month.
“I would love to see the Raiders in Las Vegas. I think it would be wonderful,” Sandoval told the Sun. “But it always comes down to money.”
The funding issue is being weighed by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, a group that Sandoval created last year to evaluate the region’s needs for new and improved tourist-related infrastructure projects. The committee is expected make recommendations to the governor this summer.
Supporters have said the public share of the stadium cost could come from tourism-related taxes such as those levied on hotel rooms in Clark County. But that idea has been met with strong pushback from Jim Murren, the CEO of Sands rival MGM Resorts International, and others who don’t want to see room taxes diverted from the planned expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Murren has said he’s not unilaterally opposed to the idea of a new football stadium, but that his company would “not support room taxes being diverted to a stadium when we have this just tremendous, tremendous, dire need at our convention center.”
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought the now-shuttered Riviera hotel last year with plans to replace it with an expansion of its convention center. The authority says it needs to build a new convention facility on that site — and renovate the existing convention center just across Paradise Road — in order to stay competitive and meet demand from major trade shows for more space.
Sandoval, for his part, is sympathetic to the need for both projects.
“Certainly, the convention center is a priority for me. We need to update that. We need to not just remain competitive, but stay ahead of our competitors,” he said. “But at the same time, to have an NFL franchise in Las Vegas would be another game-changer for us.”
Yet whether the stadium should be built and whether the Raiders would really play in it are, to an extent, largely separate considerations. And on the second front, Sandoval seems unabashedly optimistic: Asked if he thought it was actually possible that an NFL team would come to Las Vegas, he said “you bet, I think it’s possible.”
“Based on my impressions from Mr. Davis, I think that he’s interested in Las Vegas. Based on my conversations with the Sands, they’re very interested in building a stadium. Based on my conversations with the local leadership, they’d love to see a team as well,” Sandoval said. “So the makings are there, but again, it comes down to money, and there’s needs and wants. And we’ve got to make sure that we address our needs.”
Sandoval said he had “complete confidence” in the infrastructure committee, which is chaired by Steve Hill, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and includes representatives from the major Las Vegas resort companies. The committee first heard about the stadium proposal in March and is expected to examine it further in two weeks.