The Nevada state senate on Tuesday approved legislation that would put $750 million in taxpayer money toward the construction of a new Las Vegas football stadium ― the first step in giving away the largest public subsidy ever for an American pro sports facility.
The stadium, with an overall proposed price tag of $1.9 billion, is meant to entice the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to move to the Sin City.
The senate approved the legislation ― which raises taxes on hotel rooms in Las Vegas to fund the stadium ― over the opposition of progressive, libertarian and conservative groups that argued the subsidy is a giveaway to billionaire casino mogul and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged $650 million to the project. Raiders owner Mark Davis would contribute $500 million under the current plan.
Now those groups have vowed to fight the legislation as it moves to the state assembly, which could vote on the stadium bill as soon as Thursday night.
“We’re working with Republicans and Democrats on that side to see if we can stop it,” said Bob Fulkerson, the state director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, or PLAN. “We’re going to get the troops rallied and get everybody there in the next couple days. The assembly is the peoples’ house. I think we can give them a good run for the money on that side.”
Despite good arguments against the stadium, they are up against steep odds, including Adelson and others in the casino industry, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), and an army of lobbyists Adelson unleashed in the state legislature this year in an attempt to push the project across the finish line.
They’re going to have to balance this budget, so they’re going to have to cut critical services. But they’re willing raise a tax to build a billionaire a stadium. Annette Magnus, Battle Born Progress
Sandoval, whose political action committee has received donations from Adelson in the past, called a special legislative session to get the stadium deal done. Aside from the typical (and widely discredited) arguments about stadiums having major economic impacts, Sandoval has argued that the arrival of the Raiders will create a “new era for tourism” in Las Vegas.
“Now is the time to capitalize on the opportunity before us to invest in Nevada’s most foundational industry, tourism, by providing for the infrastructure and public safety needs of the 21st century,” Sandoval said in a statement when he called the special session. “As I have said before, we can and must usher in a new era for tourism in the Las Vegas market, while keeping our citizens and visitors safe, and ensuring our position as the global leader in entertainment and hospitality.”
That argument gained even more traction in the legislature Monday, when Adelson’s fellow casino magnates and other stadium backers received “almost a full day,” Fulkerson said, to persuade senators to back the legislation.
“We’ve been offered a gift here,” said former Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, who is now an executive at Caesars. “We’ve been offered a gift that takes us from 45 million visitors, to 55, to 65 million visitors.”
But there is almost no evidence the stadium or the Raiders would have that effect. The claims that stadium backers have made about tourism increases have “no basis in reality,” said Stanford economist Roger Noll, who has studied the tourism effects of stadiums and sports teams.
“No NFL stadium in the country generates tourism for regular season games that accounts for more than a few percent of attendance,” Noll said in an email to The Huffington Post. “And people who do travel for games typically spend minimal time – one night at most.”
That this is Las Vegas, a city already built on tourism, only lessens the potential impact.
“Because Vegas already has a lot of tourism, a tiny percentage drop in other tourism would swamp any plausible estimate of the additional tourism due to the stadium,” Noll said.
Groups like PLAN have raised other objections, and complained that they received comparably little time to make their case in front of state senators during an abbreviated session Tuesday morning.
“The fix was in to jam this through with as little public scrutiny as possible,” Fulkerson said. “They knew the more the public got to look at this, the more they would vomit all over it.”
Nevada, the groups argue, is already facing a potential $400 million budget deficit over the next two years. The existing hotel tax, meanwhile, is meant to help fund education, and raising it to fund the stadium could make it harder to find new revenue sources for gaps in education funding in the future. In addition, state taxpayers will be on the hook for any gaps in funding if the hotel tax fails to meet revenue projections ― a regular occurrence in stadium financing plans.
“We have a woefully underfunded education system. We can’t build new schools ... because we don’t have the money for it,” said Annette Magnus, the executive director of Battle Born Progress, another progressive group fighting the deal. “We haven’t properly funded our mental health system since the ‘90s. They’re going to have to balance this budget, so they’re going to have to cut critical services. But they’re willing raise a tax to build a billionaire a stadium.”
Nevada political observers have already predicted that the legislation will pass the state assembly during the special session. But at least on the progressive side, the groups that oppose the legislation are pulling out last-second stops in an effort to persuade Democratic assembly members to oppose the plan.
“We’re letting them know, there will be consequences. There will be primaries,” Fulkerson said. “The left has a chance to take out some of the people who have betrayed us.”
If they vote in favor of the stadium, he said, “We’re going to make sure it hurts them.”