It was much easier for me to roll my eyes at Sheldon Adelson’s antics when his use of the dark side relegated him to a kind of ineffectual evil lord, not unlike The Emperor. I felt a kind of insulation from his political machinations when it was reserved mostly for using his billions to back failing GOP candidates and to act as the preeminent robber baron of the gaming industry. I’m sure there is a time when all villains seem innocuous or the threat feels too far from your own doorsteps to be worrisome – but the wolf is at the door and we cannot afford to look away or cower in fear.
There’s a kind of twisted symmetry to Donald Trump’s rise as the GOP front-runner and Adelson’s power looming ever larger, especially in an industry town like Las Vegas that is not that far removed from the stain of mob hits in broad daylight. In recent months we’ve helplessly watched Adelson’s Death Star strike on the Las Vegas Review Journal, which has only elevated his insidious chokehold on both the dissemination of information to the public and his jackbooted plans for a publicly financed stadium. (This is why the objectivity of a free press is important, people.)
KAnd what about that proposed publicly financed stadium? The NFL has been staunchly against the idea until earlier this year when Mark Davis, owner of the Raiders, started to not only welcome the idea of a move to Sin City, but offered half the money to build Adelson’s proposed $1 billion stadium. This week Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones has suggested he supports the plan as well. (And late yesterday The Chargers made it known they’re considering Las Vegas as well.)
Still, that’s not enough to smooth over the inherent problems of such an endeavor. Even if casino sports books can convince the NFL coaches and Commissioner Roger Goodell that a Las Vegas football franchise can avoid the taint of sports betting – and that’s a huge if – there’s still the matter of how or if our tax base can afford to pay the tab on the stadium; whether or not we have enough resident and tourist interest to make a franchise profitable; and whether the stadium can even be built on the proposed plot next to MGM Grand, which is currently in a FAA height-restricted area near McCarran International Airport.
That’s a hell of a lot of ifs!
Let’s set aside the FAA restrictions, because I’m sure money can grease those wheels. Instead, let’s focus on whether or not Las Vegas can even keep an NFL franchise in business. After being hit the hardest in the nation by foreclosures during the recession, the Las Vegas Valley has again been flirting with being first in foreclosures in the nation. We had the second-highest foreclosure rate in America just six months ago! Meanwhile, in March the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported (PDF) that the Las Vegas area had a six percent unemployment rate, a full point higher than the national rate. We also still have more than half of all Clark County School District students qualifying for free and reduced-cost lunch, which means their family’s income is below 130-percent of the poverty line ($23,850 for a family of four). Sure, the valley’s first IKEA is opening next week, but it’s hardly time to celebrate our comeback when we’re still in the midst of it.
It would be foolish to ignore the fate of publicly financed stadiums in other cities. The reality is that taxpayers have spent nearly $7 billion during the past two decades on stadiums around the country all while the NFL made more than $10 billion in just one season (from 2014-2015)! Is the NFL really an organization that needs such corporate welfare? Is Adelson? More to the point, can Las Vegas really afford to keep paying the tab long after the Raiders come and (likely) go somewhere else? Let’s ask St. Louis how it feels to still be paying off $144 million in debt for a stadium the Rams have abandoned. (And by the way, it’s not just publicly financed football stadiums that are bankrupting cities – looking at you, NHL.)
Honestly, why are we even entertaining the idea of giving a taxpayer handout to a BILLIONAIRE? Sheldon Adelson can afford to pay for the entire proposed stadium by himself and not even blink! In a state that is still ranked last in education and is still struggling to crawl out of the foreclosure sinkhole, we have to ask the obvious question: Why would we want to get involved in this Adelson moneypit? It’s not just a boondoggle because Darth Sidious is involved. This is a boondoggle because this has been shown to be a genuinely bad idea again and again.
I enjoy watching football as much as the next red-blooded American, but there’s no tickertape parade for the cities that lose on this kind of prop bet.