Raiders’ deal gives new meaning to the term Black Hole

They apparently call the section of the stadium taken over by the most ardent, raucous, symbol bedecked and loudest fans of the Oakland Raiders the Black Hole.

On Monday the NFL owners voted to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, opening just a bit wider the chasm that will become a black hole into which Nevada taxpayers money will be endless, relentlessly sucked.

That $750 million in Clark County room tax money is just the first of the piles of tax money that will be swallowed by the supposedly $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed (doomed?) stadium that someday might house the Raiders and possibly UNLV football.

Artist depiction of a black hole (NASA)

Remember, the Nevada Department of Transportation estimates it will take $900 million to improve the roads to access the most likely stadium site. Don’t think for a minute that the billionaire Raiders owners are going to pay for that.

In any other development the developers pay for the roads. You see all those sawtooth roads around the valley — ones that switch back and forth from two lanes to four lanes? That is because first builders in the rural areas were only required to pay for two-lane roads, while later builders were asked to pay for wider roads. Who do you think paid for the parkway that provides access to Howard Hughes’ Summerlin development?

Then there will be demands for upgrades, just like at every other NFL stadium in the history of the world, fleecing the taxpayers for billions.

As for economic improvement, most workers will be minimum wage and part-time, adding more to the welfare rolls than lifting people off.

When billionaire hotel, casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson floated the idea of building a $1 billion stadium for the Raiders, I thought it would be like any other hotel amenity — just something to attract a few more suckers to the gambling tables and into the beds. But somehow Adelson wriggled out of his supposed $650 million commitment, though the stadium project lives, meaning he gets the amenity without footing the bill.

And who is to say it will ever cost $1.9 billion to which the price tag is said to have grown? Perhaps it can be built for less and stick the taxpayer with the bulk of the cost.

A stadium is a liability, not an asset. It is an insatiable maw that swallows tax money in perpetuity.

Black hole indeed.

The Black Hole

Editorial: Lawmakers should repeal football stadium funding

Lawmakers were summoned this past fall to Carson City and asked to pitch in $750 million toward financing a $1.9 billion domed football stadium that would house the Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football program.

The Raiders and the NFL would add $500 million to the pot and Las Vegas casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson’s family would tip in another $650 million.

Since then Adelson has walked away from the deal, taking his money. He was miffed at the fact the Raiders’ owner never told him before hand about a proposed lease agreement with the stadium authority that legislators created to handle the “publicly owned” stadium.

The lease proposal envisions the Raiders paying $1 a year in rent, and the team owners pocketing all revenue from tickets, events, naming rights, etc., as well as having total control over the use of the stadium by UNLV and the Las Vegas Bowl.

“In addition to being discouraged by the surprise submission, I was deeply disappointed for the disregard the Raiders showed our community partners, particularly UNLV, through the proposed agreement,” Adelson said in a statement given to his Las Vegas newspaper. “It was certainly shocking to the Adelson family,” the statement also said. “We were not only excluded from the proposed agreement; we weren’t even aware of its existence. … It’s clear the Raiders have decided their path for moving to Las Vegas does not include the Adelson family. So, regrettably, we will no longer be involved in any facet of the stadium discussion.”

It is high time lawmakers, now meeting in regular session, reconsider the state’s commitment of room tax money to this harebrained, half-baked scheme to enrich billionaires.

Instead of sticking tourists with a 0.88 percent hike in the room tax, lawmakers should let them keep that money to spend on food, drink and gambling, which net nearly 10 times as much in tax revenue.

Sam Boyd, where there are more people on the field than in the stands.

Sam Boyd, where there are more people on the field than in the stands.

Now, we are reticent to suggest that the proponents of this stadium deal are so Machiavellian as to have plotted this from the start, but …

Lawmakers should note that there is no stadium price tag in the bill they passed, and the stadium backers flatly refused to consider capping public funding at 39 percent of the cost of construction. It was $750 million or no deal. The cost of the stadium when first proposed was a mere $1 billion. It ratcheted up from there. What is to stop the Raiders from building a $1 billion stadium, tapping the taxpayers for three-quarters of the tab and getting the state to make the estimated $900 million in road improvements needed to access the stadium?

Besides, does UNLV really need a new football stadium, when it can’t fill the one it has? One that has adequate traffic access off a major freeway and abundant parking. Why is there a need for a stadium on or near the campus, when 93 percent of students live off campus? And never mind the problems it might create for air traffic into McCarran International Airport.

A stadium is a liability, not an asset. It is an insatiable maw that swallows tax money in perpetuity.

The Kingdome in Seattle was repaired in 1994, costing more than $50 million in 20-year bonds, which were paid off in 2015. The stadium was imploded in 2000.

Renovate Sam Boyd Stadium if that is needed and forget this domed stadium boondoggle. If Adelson can take a hike, so can the state.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Did someone ratchet up the stadium price tag to hoodwink lawmakers? Nah …

So, according to the Sheldon Adelson Review-Journal (SAR-J, pronounced sarge), NFL executives in Houston for the “Big Game,” as all the ads say because they can’t say Super Bowl, say that $1.9 billion price tag for a 65,000-seat domed stadium in Las Vegas to house the Oakland Raiders might be “exorbitant.”

Now, who’d’ve thought that?

No other stadium has cost that much so far, the paper says, though one being built is estimate to top $2 billion.

Back in October when lawmakers were contemplating Senate Bill 1, which proposed to raise room taxes to help pay for such a stadium — the special session vote was 16-5 in the Senate and 28-13 in the Assembly, satisfying the two-thirds requirement — someone wrote:

The stadium is being pushed by billionaire casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson who promises to shell out $650 million from his rather deep pockets to pay for construction. The National Football League and the Oakland Raiders are supposed to contribute $500 million toward construction. The $750 million public sop is the largest ever by any public entity for a sports facility in this country.

All profits from stadium operations accrue strictly to the private investors.

At one point during the Assembly hearings, Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks asked what happens if the stadium comes in under the $1.9 billion estimate. Would the taxpayers still be on the hook for the full $750 million?

Steve Hill of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which had touted the project, replied: “Technically that’s correct.”

Before Hill could elaborate, Hansen cut him off with a terse: “Thank you.”

So, if the project comes in closer to the original estimate of $1 billion, the taxpayers will pick up 75 percent of the cost and the billionaires keep their money.

Now that Adelson has walked away from the deal, might taxpayers be facing just such an outcome? The stadium proponents rejected a proposal to cap taxpayer funding at 39 percent of the actual cost. It was $750 million or no deal. Don’t forget the $900 million in tax dollars it will take to improve roadways to access the stadium.

The article in the paper asks the billion-dollar question: “Does (Oakland Raiders owner Mark) Davis really need the $650 million that was coming from the Adelsons, or does he need far less to build the Las Vegas stadium?”`

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis. (AP pix via SAR-J)

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis. (AP pix via SAR-J)

State should pull the plug on funding football stadium

Casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson walked away from the proposed $1.9 billion domed stadium and took his $650 million with him. The state of Nevada should renege on its $750 million commitment.

Sheldon Adelson

If Adelson can’t make a suitable deal with Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis to move the team to Las Vegas, what makes anyone think UNLV will be able to deal with him and get a fair share of playing time and money from the stadium, should it ever really get built?

Adelson apparently was miffed that the Raiders handed the new stadium authority a lease deal without consulting him. “In addition to being discouraged by the surprise submission, I was deeply disappointed for the disregard the Raiders showed our community partners, particularly UNLV, through the proposed agreement,” Adelson’s said in a statement given to his Las Vegas newspaper.

“It was certainly shocking to the Adelson family,” the statement also said. “We were not only excluded from the proposed agreement; we weren’t even aware of its existence. … It’s clear the Raiders have decided their path for moving to Las Vegas does not include the Adelson family. So, regrettably, we will no longer be involved in any facet of the stadium discussion.”

Under the proposed lease the NFL team would pay$1 a year for the stadium and would keep all the revenue from concessions, events, naming, etc. Uses by UNLV and the annual Las Vegas Bowl would be subject to the whims of the Raiders.

Reportedly Goldman Sachs stands ready to step into the fray and pick up the funding gap left by Adelson’s departure. Reportedly. ESPN is reporting the Goldman Sachs is re-evaluating its role in the deal.

That $750 million in room tax money could be spent on more worthwhile endeavors, including a less ostentatious football stadium for UNLV. It would also mean the state would not have to spend $900 million in road improvements for the stadium. Lawmakers meet in Carson City in a week or so and bill draft could ready for them when they arrive.

Adelson’s sports columnist speculated that other NFL team owners did not want an unsavory casino owner dabbling in their pristine pastime, or, just perhaps, they did not want to associate with someone whose company has paid $16 million in fines to the feds in the past year over allegations of bribery involving overseas operations.

How long will it take for that little italicized disclaimer at the bottom of stories about the stadium to disappear, just as Adelson has? And what will be the paper’s editorial stance on the stadium proposal?


Editorial: Billions for billionaires, pittance for parents

We now know the pecking order in Nevada.

In his State of the State speech this past week Gov. Brian Sandoval boasted that the Tesla gigafactory near Sparks, in addition to making batteries for electric cars, would also be making electric motors and gearboxes, adding 550 workers.

Left unsaid was who would pay for the police and fire, schools and other government services those workers would need, since Tesla was given $1.3 billion in tax breaks and credits, as well as promises of millions more to improve roads, by lawmakers in a special session in 2014.

Tesla is owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

Nevada takes care of billionaires.

Nevada lawmakers in a special session in 2015 agreed to dole out $215 million in tax abatements and credits plus millions in road improvements to entice Faraday Future to build an electric car factory at Apex in North Las Vegas. The company is owned by a Chinese billionaire.

As if on schedule, legislators in 2016 agreed to pony up $750 million in tax money to help build a domed football stadium for the billionaire owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis, and Sheldon Adelson, billionaire owner of the Sands casino corporation and the Las Vegas daily newspaper. The stadium would also require the state to spend $900 million for road improvements.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson.

Almost as an afterthought, Sandoval tossed out a $60 million sop to the parents who have applied for education savings accounts (ESAs) approved in 2015 by lawmakers. The ESAs were blocked when the state Supreme Court said ESAs are constitutional but the funding mechanism devised by the lawmakers was not.

Under the law, parents who opt out of sending their children to public schools would be given an education savings account that would equal a portion of the statewide average the state spends per public school pupil, currently that is about $5,700. Low-income parents and parents with special needs children would get 100 percent of that amount, while all others would get 90 percent, or about $5,100 currently.

That money could be spent on private schooling, tutoring, transportation, distance education and/or homeschooling.

“We’ve heard from the thousands of Nevada families about how crucial it is that we give them freedom of choice in the education of their children,” Sandoval said in his speech. “I look forward to building a bi-partisan solution to get this done. It is time to give Nevada families more choice.”

Well, a few Nevada families perhaps.

It turns out the $60 million — $25 million in the first fiscal year and $35 million in the second — would fund about half the 8,000 to 9,000 ESAs already applied for so far in the first year and about two-thirds of them in the second year.

To add insult to injury, a spokesman for the governor said Sandoval is open to limiting who is eligible for ESAs by imposing means testing — the more a family earns, the less the family could get back from its own taxes.

When Sandoval announced his funding proposal for ESAs, Republicans applauded and Democrats sat on their hands, prompting the governor to quip with a chuckle, “I knew it would be a split house on that one.”

In 2015 not a single Democrat voted in favor of authorizing ESAs. Now the Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, making that bi-partisan solution look like a pipe dream.

The governor had his chance to fund ESAs in that special session, while Republicans still held majorities in both chambers, in which lawmakers approved $750 million for that football stadium in Las Vegas, but he failed to put that on the agenda. Just not as important as the billionaires.

Nevada doles out billions for billionaires, but pittance for parents.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

If the facts aren’t on your side grasp at wispy straws called ‘intangibles’

If you can’t win an argument based on facts and figures and dollar and cents — such as population, media market, median income — pluck vagaries out of thin air and pretend they have substance. That’s the ticket.

And that’s why the newspaper owned by the man who wants to build a domed football stadium in Las Vegas to attract the Oakland Raiders has an online banner headline that reads: “Intangibles make Las Vegas competitive for NFL franchise, analysts say.”

The print version headline reads: “Vegas’ NFL allure nontraditional: Numbers alone don’t do justice to strength of Southern Nevada.”

You know, intangibles — something that cannot be easily defined, formulated, or grasped; vague.

It’s like putting gold on one side of the scale and pretending it is not your thumb on the other side but some intangible that tips the scale.

The story dutifully notes the facts in the lede. The Oakland area population is more than double that of Las Vegas. The median household income the Bay Area is nearly double that in Las Vegas. The media market there is the sixth largest in the nation, while Las Vegas’ is 40th.

“In short, it’s the intangibles that Las Vegas can offer, marketing experts say,” says the newspaper account as it segues from facts to wishful speculation, grasping at wispy straws.

The ubiquitous Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis, the outfit that crunched stadium numbers for the tourism panel and the lawmakers who agreed to shell out $750 million in tax money for the project, was quoted as saying, “From a statistical standpoint, Las Vegas has a tendency to be wildly misunderstood, because there’s no place like it.”

He later acknowledged that the Las Vegas market has its weaknesses, but apparently those were not worthy of mentioning.

As for those intangibles, Aguero told the newspaper, “It’s a 24-hour town, so one-third of our people may be working at any given time.” And unable to attend a football game, especially on weekends, even if their paltry salaries made tickets affordable?

“There are a lot of other entertainment opportunities,” he also related. All competing for that limited disposable income?

“How is our economy evolving? We’re becoming more diverse, so that’s a good thing,” he said. But an intangible?

The ever-present disclaimer at the bottom of the story informs the reader: “The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, which is contributing $650 million to building the new stadium.” Perhaps that should state that he has said he would contribute $650 million, since I don’t think he has put that in writing anywhere.

In fact, remember that this stadium started out as a mere $1 billion project but has blossomed to $1.9 billion — the storyline is that public tax money via a room tax would cover $750 million of the cost, while the Adelson family would cover $650 million and the NFL and the Raiders would cover $500 million.

So why is it that the stadium backers absolutely refused to consider a codicil to the agreement that would cap the public money portion at 39 percent, calling that a deal killer? Also, anything less than $750 million from the public trough was a deal killer? If the project came in under that pie-in-sky $1.9 billion, would Adelson just keep his promised $650 million? Or is that an intangible?

Rendering of future home of the Raiders? (Via R-J)

Rendering of future home of the Raiders? (Via R-J)






Guess who made the list of Forbes’ most powerful people in the whole damned world

The editors at Forbes magazine like to list things — the richest people in the world, the highest paid athletes, the highest paid celebrities, the best colleges, the most valuable sports teams.

This year there is a new entry onto the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people — you might have met him, you might’ve seen him in public, you might know someone who works for him.

For the fourth year Putin is No. 1, but Trump is No. 2, while Obama lagged down at No. 48. Obama did not warrant a mention in the story about the list. That story does mention the 11 new names on the list — including the new prime minister of the UK and the vice-president elect.

Landing on the list at No. 72 out of 74 is Las Vegas’ own Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands and owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The squib on Adelson notes that the 83-year-old Las Vegan is worth $31.3 billion and is on a number of other Forbes lists, including wealthiest.

The piece relates: “Political heavyweight Sheldon Adelson pledged allegiance to Donald Trump in May 2016, but ultimately promised the Republican nominee only $5 million in financial support — peanuts by Adelson’s standards. (He spent more than $100 million trying to elect a Republican during the last election.) This year he focused on congressional candidates instead, doling out $40 million to Republicans across the country. Adelson is making bigger investments in his business, Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in America. In September 2016 Sands opened its new Paris-themed Macau resort — a $2.9 billion bet on the world’s largest gambling market, which has suffered in recent years as Chinese officials cracked down on corruption. Las Vegas Sands itself has been under scrutiny for its relationships with government officials in Macau. In April 2016, it agreed to pay a $9 million penalty to the SEC to settle charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. One month earlier, Adelson named his son-in-law CFO of Las Vegas Sands. The son of immigrants from Lithuania and Wales, Adelson grew up sleeping on the floor of a Boston tenement and bought his first newspaper corner with a $200 loan from his uncle when he was 12.”

It makes no mention of his latest newspaper investment, which was considerably more than $200. That apparently had nothing to do with him qualifying as one of the most powerful people in the world.

Sheldon Adelson as portrayed on Forbes magazine website.

Sheldon Adelson as portrayed on Forbes magazine website.