A reminder that NFL stadium financing is cloaked in secrecy

A hole into which money will be poured. (Rendering via R-J)

It’s just your tax money. You don’t need to know how it is being used.

A front page story in today’s newspaper reminds us of just how dreadful that deal the governor and legislators cut with the Raiders football team to build a new stadium in Las Vegas really is.

The piece reminds us the law creating a stadium authority also veils just about everything in secrecy, and again relates the stadium cost of $1.9 billion is just wild-ass guess. It could be more. It could be less. And we might never know which. If it comes in at the guessed at cost, the taxpayers will be ponying up nearly 40 percent of the cost. If comes in at the original estimate of $1 billion, the taxpayers will pick up 75 percent of the tab, plus the $900 million in road improvements for a stadium site with only 15 percent of the necessary parking spaces.

Today’s story has Stadium Authority Board Chairman Steve Hill confirming that the public won’t get much information about the financing of the stadium at I-15 and Russell Road of the confidentiality wording included in the 2016 special session Senate Bill 1.

“A big part of the information that the board will get will be confidential,” Hill quoted as saying. “The Raiders’ financial situation is not going to be a public document, so we’ll get a framework for that at a board meeting and individual board members will get a more thorough briefing outside of the public meeting.”

The 1,000-word article tells us mostly what we don’t know and probably never will. The final paragraph reports that the Raiders did not respond to email inquiries about the project and its financing and have told its contractors to not talk to the press.

Of course, the newspaper’s owner Sheldon Adelson took his promised $650 million in stadium financing and went home.

All the news about the paper’s owner that fits

There is a story on the Las Vegas newspaper’s website about how Vice President Mike Pence and House leaders plan to honor the paper’s owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife at a June 7 fundraiser for the National Republican Campaign Committee. The fundraiser is asking for contributions of up to $50,000 per couple. Adelson is a major Republican donor.

But for some reason the Reuters story about Adelson being questioned by Israeli police as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t appear to have been posted yet. Adelson is a Netanyahu supporter

Reuters reports Netanyahu is suspected of abuse of office, but he denies any wrongdoing.

Reportedly Adelson talked about suspicions that Netanyahu negotiated a deal in 2015 for favourable press coverage with Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Adelson owns a competing Israeli newspaper.

Adelson arrives for Trump’s recent speech in Israel. (Reuters pix)

 

Adelson’s fingerprints are everywhere … well, almost

Sheldon Adelson speaks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before a speech by President Trump at the Israel Museum on Tuesday in Jerusalem. (AP pix via Haaretz)

The Las Vegas newspaper may have to add a couple of pages just to handle the disclaimers if its owner gets his fingerprints on any more news items.

Today there were, count them, four separate disclaimers.

In the front page story about President Trump being at a museum in Israel there was a mention that the paper’s owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife were in the audience. So at the end of the piece there was the obligatory disclaimer: “The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.”

The disclaimer also appeared at the end of a story about what it would cost to remove the attorney general as legal counsel for various agencies, including the Gaming Control Board. A bill was introduced to do this after the head of GCB secretly taped a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt in which Laxalt asked the GBC to file a brief in a civil court case involving Adelson.

At the end of a story about a languishing bill that would have created an inspector general’s office to audit spending by government agencies there were two disclaimers. The bill was prompted by the newspaper’s reporting of lavish spending by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The first one notes: “The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo and Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.”

The second adds: “The Review-Journal owns the domain lasvegas.com, which is subleased to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The sublease terminates Aug. 2.”

Frankly, the story and its front page placement smelled distinctly of editorializing that would benefit Adelson’s convention business at the expense of his competition.

Oddly enough there were two stories in the sports section about the NFL’s Raiders moving to Las Vegas, but neither mentioned Adelson’s key role as catalyst for the move since he walked away from the deal — keeping his money but still getting the stadium “amenity” largely at taxpayer expense while still being able to put bods in his beds. No mention, no backgrounding, no disclaimers.

Also, pay no heed the fact the legislation that created the stadium funding also created a special oversight committee to monitor the expansion of the LVCVA facilities. Adelson has long opposed the expansion of the publicly funded convention center, contending it unfairly competes with his Sands Convention Center.

The redundant oversight panel could scale back the expansion, which might have been Adelson’s real Machiavellian objective all the time.

 

Guess his fingerprints have been wiped clean from that one, but who knows where they will turn up next.

 

 

Transcript provides insight in lawyers covering their asses

Someone must be spoon-feeding The Nevada Independent like a baby in a highchair.

First, the online, contribution-funded news site first posted Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett’s affidavit about his secretly recorded conservation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt concerning casino and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson’s request for the gaming board to file an amicus brief in a civil lawsuit asking that certain records be kept confidential.

Now, at 8 a.m., after a columnist in the morning paper called for the recording to be made public, the NVIndy posts the transcript of the recording.

The transcript is a rambling discussion of whether the gaming board should become involved in the civil case by invoking NRS463.120, which makes gaming records confidential. Burnett had turned the recording over to the FBI, who determined Laxalt did nothing criminal.

The NVIndy previously had reported that back in 2008 then-Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, now a U.S. senator, had tried to invoke the confidentiality of records:

In 2008, amid a yearslong legal battle between former Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith and Adelson, who sued Smith over an allegedly defamatory passage in his book, Smith’s lawyers sought to compel the Gaming Control Board to release records relating to Adelson’s gaming license as part of the discovery process. Cortez Masto, on the board’s behalf, opposed the release on the grounds that it would impinge on the board’s ability to thoroughly vet gaming license applicants.

A Review-Journal editorial at the time noted:

As a part of the discovery process while preparing for a scheduled trial in December, Smith’s attorney, Don Campbell, managed to gain access to confidential Gaming Control Board records relating to Adelson’s gaming license. That was a feat of legal skill and audacity accomplished only one other time in history.

Since the trial has been called off, those records remain confidential.

Campbell said in court that Adelson would have pursued the case “to the end of the Earth” but that since he obtained those gaming records Adelson now “wants to call it off and walk away.”

Adelson now owns the newspaper and Smith resigned after being told he could no longer write anything about anyone who had unsuccessfully sued him.

This case was also raised in the Burnett-Laxal conversation:

In his affidavit, Burnett said he recorded the conversation with Laxalt because Adelson had reporters follow the judge in the case and he feared he might be monitored by reporters. This too came up in the discussion:

The bottomline is that both men were trying to cover their asses:

Adelson eventually settled the lawsuit.

 

 

Revamped newspaper targets a favorite target of its owner

On the same day the editor-in-chief of the Las Vegas newspaper takes to the front page to tout changes being made at the paper — changes that were already touted for a week on the front pages — the big investigative piece on the same front page was about lavish spending by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

While the headline on the editor’s piece touted “We’ve changed for the better,” that investigative piece suggested something else entirely. You see the owner of the paper is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who also owns the Sands Expo Center.

In 1999 Adelson sued the LVCVA, saying the convention authority and a group of trade shows was in a “conspiracy to steal business from me.”

Adelson said plans to expand the convention center was unfair competition with his Sands Expo because LVCVA was offering discounted rates.

“Their predatory pricing behavior is against the law, as is tortious interference,” Adelson told the Las Vegas Sun at the time. “You’re not supposed to go after someone else’s customers. There are legal remedies for people who try to destroy business relationships. The LVCVA has conspired with one or more show managers to achieve the result of taking away our business. Trust me, I know this. The convention authority drafted the terms of the expansion and had proxies solicit the consortium members for them. And when we sue the people involved, everyone will run for cover and tell the truth.”

The suit was settled a year later.

 

When the LVCVA started talking about expanding again this past year, some suspect Adelson floated the idea of using room tax money for a football stadium for the Oakland Raiders as a way of funneling funds away from that expansion.

He told his newspaper at the time, “I have no economic reason or rationale to object to the convention center expansion, except to say that based on my experience that a stadium in Las Vegas is a must-have and the convention center expansion is not even a nice-to-have.”

He went on to say, “No shows are going to leave Las Vegas for another city. I’ve personally spoken to organizers, including the ones referenced by the LVCVA, and only one said his show could fit in another city — but he had no intention of even considering that. … Additionally, the likelihood of attracting new shows remains extremely unlikely. Many of the shows the LVCVA has targeted to bring to Las Vegas want to come during times early in the year when all of the hotel rooms in town are already booked with existing conventions.”

When the Nevada Policy Research Institute wrote about lavish spending by the LVCVA in 2007 it was criticized because Adelson was a contributor.

So, why was the first big investigative piece of the revamped newspaper about the LVCVA? (By the way, the paper also is touting a revamped and easier to navigate website coming Monday, but today I could not find the LVCVA investigative piece on that website. There is an item saying the investigative piece is coming soon.)

 

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.