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.