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Raiders’ move to Las Vegas is a bit of a gamble

Raiders owner Mark Davis was all smiles Monday after other owners green-lighted his team’s move to Las Vegas.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

PHOENIX — The NFL is ready to bet on Las Vegas.

After shunning Vegas for decades because of its status as the gambling capital of the United States, NFL owners voted, 31-1, Monday to approve the Oakland Raiders’ move to Vegas, where $750 million in public subsidies await the team to build a sparkling new football palace, to be opened in 2019 or 2020. The Raiders will play in Oakland at least through the 2018 season.

“My father used to say that the greatness of the Raiders is in its future,” said team owner Mark Davis, referring to the late Al Davis. “And the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is one opportunity that will give us the ability to achieve that greatness.”


The proposed 65,000-seat, domed stadium would be built west of the Las Vegas strip and cost approximately $1.9 billion. The NFL is contributing $300 million, Bank of America has pledged to add about $650 million, and Davis will pick up the rest of the tab.

The one team to vote against the move was the Miami Dolphins, though it had nothing to do with gambling.

“My position today was that we as owners and a League owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement.

But while the Raiders received a sweetheart deal from the city of Las Vegas, which will provide its $750 million through an increase in Clark County hotel taxes, not everyone views the team’s move to Sin City as a slam dunk.

None of the four major professional sports has had a team in Vegas — the NHL is set to debut the Las Vegas Golden Knights next season — and the city offers plenty of pitfalls for 21-year-old athletes who suddenly come into a lot of money.


“I just want to make sure that the players are protected,” said Giants receiver Brandon Marshall, who was invited by the owners to speak at Monday’s meetings to give a player’s perspective on several issues facing the league.

“I think that it could be a tough place for a kid coming out of college. That locker room has to be strong, because there’s so much there, there’s access to so much. It’s a strip, but it’s really big and it could be overwhelming at times for young, immature players.”

Davis said he is aware of the issues that Vegas presents, but didn’t offer any concrete solutions.

“We’ve talked about that, and there are things that we will be doing,” he said.

Such as?

“Those are all things that we’ll be talking about in the future with you guys,” he said.

What mattered to the owners Monday is that they finally found an answer to the Raiders’ longstanding stadium problem. The Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, then back to Oakland in 1995, and have played in the outdated Oakland Coliseum for the past 22 years.

“I think even our friends in Oakland agree that it needed to be resolved for the long-term issue of the team, and frankly, the community,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We believe we and the Raiders have worked earnestly in Oakland for over a decade to try and find that viable option in Oakland. We needed to provide certainty and stability for the Raiders as well as the league.”


The NFL said that Oakland officials, including former NFL players Ronnie Lott and Rodney Peete, never presented a viable plan to build a new stadium after the Raiders lost the vote last year to move to Los Angeles.

“They came in with a five-page piece of paper that had nothing to do with anything,” Davis said. “We lost the vote, we came back to Oakland, we negotiated a one-year lease with two years of options and talked about getting together and talking about a long-term future together.

“A week later, I got a call from one of the county board of supervisors telling me: ‘Mark, I’m sorry but the lease that we just negotiated, the three years of leases, are not going to be valid, and we’re going to raise the rent three times on you.’

“At that point, we ended up signing that lease anyway, but then decided we had to start looking elsewhere to see if we could find a long-term solution.

The Raiders’ move solves the final piece of the NFL’s stadium puzzle, as the Rams and Chargers finalized moves to Los Angeles in the last 14 months. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has already broken ground on a brand new stadium in Hollywood Park that could cost as much as $3 billion and will house both teams, with the Chargers as the Rams’ tenant.


“None of us like to see our teams move. And it’s horrible for the fan base,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “In the end, we’re in a very competitive league and you can’t compete at the highest level if you don’t have a first-rate stadium. And I think that’s, really, what this is all about.”

Not only is Las Vegas untested as a professional sports city, but the Raiders are also moving from the country’s sixth-largest TV market to its 40th-largest, according to Nielsen. Buffalo (53rd), New Orleans (51st), and Jacksonville (47th) are the only smaller markets with NFL teams.

But Kraft said he’s not worried about the viability of Vegas as an NFL town.

“I think Las Vegas as a destination for visiting teams will be very strong,” he said. “And I think that’s something they’ll have to work with to try to sell out as best they can so they can control the home-team crowd.

“But I think it will be a wonderful venue and a wonderful market. It is unique and the only small market I can think of that would be in that category.

“The Raiders, since I’ve come in, have been at the bottom of the league in terms of revenue, and I know it’s been difficult for them to do all that they wanted to do for their football operations.

“I think they’ve worked very hard to try and make things work out there and it hasn’t worked. I think now they have an opportunity to be a very solid, viable team.”


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.