Odds on Raiders' Vegas Gamble Get Slightly Better

Fans of the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs came together at a tailgate on Dec. 6, 2015. (Nina Thorsen/KQED)

A special session of the Nevada Legislature has approved at least $750 million in public funding for a new football stadium, which they hope will lure the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. It would be the largest public contribution to a stadium in history. But it's far from a done deal.

The Nevada Senate passed the funding bill on Tuesday on a 16-5 vote, and the Assembly heard hours of public comment on Thursday. Most supporters were members of local construction unions, like Dennis Cronin.

"A lot of our members have been out of work for a long time," Cronin testified. "They lost their houses, and this is an opportunity to get these people back into work and into housing."

But Las Vegas resident Steve Miller told Assembly members they shouldn't trust promises from Raiders owner Mark Davis that the team would stay in Nevada for at least 30 years.

"The potential move would make the second time the Raiders have left and abandoned Oakland," Miller said, referring to the Raiders' 1982 relocation to Los Angeles. "You have to ask the question: Does the ownership care about the community, or the money?"

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Then, Thursday night, legislators discovered that in addition to $750 million for the stadium itself, they'll need to find about $900 million for improvements to nearby roads. The director of Nevada's Department of Transportation had to go before the Assembly around midnight to testify that those plans were already in the works for sometime in the next 20 years, and the stadium would only bring them to the front of the queue.

But by Friday morning, Assembly members had been persuaded by the promise of thousands of construction jobs and approved the plan on a 28-13 vote. Lobbying from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the stadium's biggest backer, was no doubt a factor as well. Adelson is No. 14 on the Forbes 400, with a net worth estimated at $31.6 billion. He owns the Las Vegas Sands casino and last year bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the city's largest newspaper.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is expected to sign the bill on Monday. In a statement after the vote, Raiders owner Mark Davis called it "historic" and said "all parties have worked extremely hard to develop and approve this tremendous stadium project that will serve as a proud new home for the entire Raider Nation."

But will the Raiders move? Sports business consultant Andy Dolich, former chief operating officer of the 49ers, published a commentary in the East Bay Times last month called "11 hurdles to Raiders Vegas move." The Nevada Legislature's approval wasn't one of them that was expected by most observers when the special session was called.

Hurdles include getting the support of at least three-fourths of other NFL owners, and that may be the biggest obstacle. The very thing that made the stadium irresistible to Nevada legislators -- thousands of unemployed constituents desperate for high-paying jobs -- might make the league wonder who would be buying tickets. The Bay Area ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities in median income; Las Vegas is No. 80. The NFL has also been squeamish in the past about getting too cozy with the gambling industry. And the $500 million that Davis has committed as the Raiders' investment in the Vegas stadium could be canceled out by the league's relocation fee.

Meanwhile, back in Oakland, city officials have had meetings with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and former 49ers star Ronnie Lott about helping to bankroll a new stadium on the site of the current Coliseum. And wherever the Raiders end up in the long term, when they take the field on Sunday they'll be somewhere they haven't been in quite a while -- first place in the AFC West.