Lawmakers should punt on stadium funding plan

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Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling the Legislature into special session in October to consider raising the room tax on Las Vegas tourists by almost 1 percentage point to put $750 million toward a $1.9 billion domed football stadium for the Oakland Raiders and the UNLV football team.

So, why should anyone other than those tourists who will be shelling out a couple bucks more a night even care? It’s other people’s money not ours.

But as Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands hotel-casino magnate who is pushing the stadium plan, is fond of saying: Money is fungible.

If state lawmakers approve the outlay, that will be $750 million — $268 for every man, woman and child in the state — not being spent on education, on roads, on other public services. Additionally, every dollar spent for tickets to events in the proposed stadium is a dollar that would have been spent buying goods, or at the gaming tables or in restaurants and bars — all of which are taxed.

The Adelson family reportedly plans to put up $650 million of their own money, while the Raiders and the NFL would chip in $500 million, but taxes would provide the most.

According to a 2014 economic impact study for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, $140 million of Clark County’s room tax went into the statewide distributive school account, $130 million for parks, recreation and transportation and nearly $80 million to Clark County schools. None of that additional $750 million in tax revenue would be available for those purposes.

Since the proposed stadium would be publicly owned, presumably it would pay no property taxes, which fund the state budget.

Speaking of fungible, in January the stadium was estimated to cost $1 billion, but grew to $1.2 billion in February with the taxpayer picking up 65 percent of the tab and the Sands 35 percent. By June the price tag had grown to $1.4 billion with the public chipping in $500 million, the Sands $400 million and the NFL and Raiders the rest.

Today the cost has ballooned to $1.9 billion with taxes covering 40 percent and the Sands 34 percent.

Does anyone think that if the stadium comes in under budget, at say $1.2 billion, that the developers will say: Never mind, taxpayers, we don’t need your money after all?

The more you tax something the less you get of it. Raising the room tax for that stadium plus another half cent or so to expand the Las Vegas convention center would make the city room tax the highest in the nation. Visitors might choose to dispose of their disposable income where it goes a bit further.

In a statement announcing his plans to call the special legislative session to consider funding the stadium, convention center expansion and more Las Vegas police officers, Gov. Sandoval pontificated, “We have before us the opportunity to invest in Nevada’s most foundational industry, tourism, by providing for the infrastructure and public safety needs of the 21st century. We can and must usher in a new era for tourism in the Las Vegas market …”

But economists have been telling us for years that stadiums are more of a drain on an economy than an investment. Most of the jobs created by stadiums are part-time and minimum wage.

In his book “Field of Schemes,” author Neil deMause estimates that sports stadiums and arenas drain $2 billion a year from public treasuries to provide profits for millionaire team owners.

Sandoval decided to call the special session after receiving a recommendation from the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

“I have thoroughly reviewed the committee’s documents and I am comfortable with the recommendations related to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority expansion, additional support for law enforcement, and the development of a county-owned stadium that could host a National Football League franchise and be the home of University of Nevada, Las Vegas football,” Sandoval stated.

This will be Sandoval’s third special session, the other two provided billions in tax breaks for electric car makers Tesla Motors and Faraday Future — neither of which has yet proven to be worthwhile. Sandoval keeps throwing tax money at billionaires.

No one has said how much UNLV will be charged to play at this “publicly owned” stadium.

Any tax increase will require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers statewide for passage — 14 in the Senate and 28 in the Assembly. This should be a referendum, just weeks before the election, on who represents the people and who is obliged to power brokers.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at He also blogs at


  1. Michael Stilley says:

    I won’t comment either for or against the stadium proposal. However, when one writes an editorial for or against a particular project, the math should be accurate. For example, the writer states that the Adelson family would contribute $650 million dollars and Mr. Davis/NFL would contribute $500 million dollars but “taxes would provide the most dollars”. Well, using those figures, private financing provides about 61% of funding while taxes provide about 39%. Doesn’t appear that taxes represent the most dollars provided. He also states that while taxes provide 40%, the Sands only provides 34% while he doesn’t mention the 26% provided by the Raiders. Not arguing for or against, just asking that the numbers add up.

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