The $7 Billion Bet That Couldn’t Lose: How Vegas Became America’s Sports Capital

<span>The NFL logo will be displayed on the Las Vegas Sphere ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.  </span><span>Photo: Caroline Brehman/EPA</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 747e87973f2f” data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 87973f2f”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=The NFL logo will be displayed on the Las Vegas Sphere ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl. Photo: Caroline Brehman/EPA

Sidewalks and overpasses decorated with red and purple signage. Corporate installations and official merchandise stands are still being built. Expansive casino floors filled with fans dressed in football jerseys, huddled around table games and entering bills into NFL-branded slot machines. The first Super Bowl to be played in Las Vegas was still a few days away, but the signposts of America’s holy day were already in full view on a drizzly Monday afternoon along the famed Strip.

They were scenes that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, when the major American professional sports leagues – none more so than the NFL – uniformly shunned Vegas because of its associations with gambling culture. But when the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs kick off the nation’s biggest sporting event at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday, it will be the culmination of a city’s unlikely rebranding from an old gambling town to the sports capital of America.

Over the past calendar year, a venue once off-limits to major sports outside of major prizefights has hosted the finals of the NBA Summer League and In-Season Tournament, a Formula One Grand Prix and the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of the NCAA basketball tournament for men. . The college football national championship game and men’s Final Four are next. In less than a decade, Las Vegas has become home to the NFL’s Raiders, the NHL’s Golden Knights (who have already won one title), and the WNBA’s Aces (the latter two on the trot). Major League Baseball’s athletic club is already in the process of relocating from Oakland, while an NBA expansion team with an estimated $6 billion worth is widely expected to follow, as LeBron James openly campaigns for ownership. No city this side of Riyadh is vacuuming up sports grounds faster.

But no event marks Las Vegas’ arrival as a sports mecca quite like the Super Bowl, the all-consuming pan-cultural event for a league that had kept Sin City at bay for decades. According to a Bloomberg estimate, nearly $7 billion has been poured into Vegas’ transformation into a global sports hub in recent years, including the construction of state-of-the-art stadiums and arenas. That figure also makes for eye-watering tax breaks: No less than $750 million of the $1.2 billion price tag for Allegiant Stadium was financed by hotel room taxes from Clark County, a record amount of public funding for a football stadium at the time. But few can dispute the return on investment if it even comes close to the projected $500 million economic impact of this week’s Super Bowl, brought to you by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“We are the sports capital of the world right now,” said Oscar Goodman, the former Mafia lawyer who became mayor of Las Vegas from 1999 to 2011 and spent years trying to bring professional sports to the city. “If there is no sport here yet, we will have one in a few years.”

For decades, America’s professional leagues clung to the firewall between gambling and sports, a firewall that stemmed from the country’s Puritan roots and was erected in light of the existential crisis of the Black Sox scandal of 1919. That stronghold was only but reinforced by the betting introglio of every passing generation: the CCNY point-shaving episode, Tulane basketball, Pete Rose and Tim Donaghy. The NFL’s decision to insulate football from sports betting doubled in 1963, when Green Bay Packers halfback Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras were suspended indefinitely for betting on games. The obsession with performances continued into the new millennium when the NFL famously refused to air a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority commercial promoting the city’s tourism and even a fantasy football convention held in the Venetian casino was to be held was canceled.

Until recently, Roger Goodell, the milquetoast NFL commissioner who has earned more than $500 million in salary during an 18-year tenure as a human shield for the billionaire owners he represents, followed the decades-old line and was unequivocal about where it professional football stood. the subject, even as public opinion changed. In 2012, Goodell testified in the NFL’s six-year lawsuit to block then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s legalization of sports betting in the state. “I don’t think gambling is good for professional sports.” Needless to say, he’s singing a different song this week.

Related: The Super Bowl is expected to be the biggest sports betting event in US history

The first cracks in the wall came in 2016, when the NHL awarded an expansion team to Bill Foley, the billionaire chairman of Fidelity National Financial, who paid a $500 million fee for the Golden Knights. But everything came crashing down after the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and opened up sports betting across the country — and exposed the hypocrisy of the NFL. It turns out that all those decades of moralizing had nothing to do with integrity, upholding the common good or “protecting the shield”: the league just wanted their piece of the action.

Like most conservative-oriented cultural leviathans, the NFL is slow-moving, which has made the raw speed of its turnaround in gambling extraordinary. To no one’s surprise, the NFL announced five-year contracts worth a combined nearly $1 billion in 2021, with DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars becoming the league’s official sports betting partners, in addition to secondary deals with BetMGM, WynnBET, Fox Bet and PointsBet.

“This stadium is extraordinary and we are here and we can feel it… and that is our stage,” Goodell said during Monday’s aggressively moderate State-of-the-League Presser, making a nice point on the dramatic reversal from his employer. “For us the stadium is the key, the city is the key. This city really knows how to organize big events. We have seen that.”

The Raiders finally arrived in 2020 and thrived in their expensive confines at the bottom of the Strip. The Aces have become the undisputed juggernauts of the WNBA. F1 was a resounding success, after a difficult start, with a deal for another nine years. Whether it’s the bottomless coffers of the Saudi Public Investment Fund or the more than $300 billion generated in the six years of legalized sports betting, the tap is on for major sports.

Leave a Comment