The Oakland Raiders have spent much of the offseason flirting with the city of Las Vegas in regard to a potential stadium there. It may just be posturing in an attempt to secure capital for a stadium in the Bay Area, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Mainly because the NFL’s owners continue to express rather silly and antiquated concerns about the potential for an NFL team in a city where gambling is legal and ubiquitous. Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reported this week that “most owners” continue to view relocation to Vegas as a “non-starter,” with Giants owner John Mara citing the presence of casinos as “a big part” of owners’ objections.
Mara: Las Vegas a non-starter for most owners as far as a Raiders move there. "[The casinos] would be a big part of [owners' objections]."
— Bart Hubbuch (@BartHubbuch) March 20, 2016
This has to be purely about optics and nothing more, because gambling (legal or illegal) is no longer beholden to geography. The problem is the majority of old-school owners are so old and out of touch that they likely don’t realize that folks are already gambling online in every nook and cranny of the United States. Americans spend over $3 billion a year making bets online, and the folks who might be inclined to rig games are just as capable of doing so in Los Angeles or Phoenix as they are in Las Vegas.
The NFL doesn’t want to touch Vegas with a 10-foot pole because the city is synonymous with a vice that it has no interest in being officially linked to, even though the $100 million Americans spend betting on NFL games each year has done wonders for the league’s coffers.
But the risk might finally be worth the reward, mainly because there really isn’t much of a risk that a presence in Vegas would make the NFL any more vulnerable than it already is to potential game-fixing. A fixing scandal would be a huge blow to the league, but the risk is the same with or without a Vegas team. Does anyone really think that in this day and age a mobster with a match-fixing plan is just sitting back and waiting for the NFL to move to Vegas to give him his opportunity? It’s not 1978.
Think about the possibilities in Nevada. There’s enough money to build a massive, grandiose venue — right up the league’s alley — and to fill it throughout the year for various events. There are enough tourists to make every home game a unique experience for visiting fans. And there are finally enough locals — Las Vegas has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States for several years running and is now bigger than Cincinnati, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Buffalo — to give a relocated team a strong home fanbase.
NFL owners have always been allergic to change, so I’m not expecting the league to embrace Vegas anytime soon. But that’s a shame, because it is missing out on a tremendous opportunity for growth.