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Only one obstacle remains for the Raiders to move to Las Vegas

Daniel Roberts
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) and Raiders owner Mark Davis in Houston this month. (AP)

Two NFL teams have moved or announced their plan to move in the past year, and now a third is just one step away from doing the same.

The Oakland Raiders on Thursday officially filed relocation papers with the league to move to Las Vegas, according to Clark County, Nev. Commissioner Steve Sisolak.

The team has been angling for a new home for years, but negotiations for a new stadium in Oakland fell apart, and so did a potential move to LA. (Instead, the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers will share a new stadium there.) The transition to a Las Vegas effort began in earnest when Raiders owner Mark Davis met with Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson in January of last year about building a new stadium there.

Things began to move quickly: by April, Davis announced he’d like to move the team to Las Vegas, and committed $500 million (including a $200 million NFL loan) to a new stadium project. The rest of the $1.9 billion budget would come from Adelson ($650 million) and a hotel room tax increase in Clark County, Nev. ($750 million). Approval by the county was seen as a major obstacle, but in October the Nevada senate passed Senate Bill 1 to finance the stadium, and in November the Clark County Commission voted yes on the room tax hike.

Now the only obstacle in the way is a three-fourths vote of NFL owners (24 of 32) to allow the team to move. But it’s a significant obstacle.

An NFL team in Las Vegas is something local sportswriters “never saw coming,” says the Las Vegas Review-Journal. That’s because ‘Sin City’ has traditionally been viewed as an unfit place for pro sports teams. It was never home to any major pro team (NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL), until the NHL announced an expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, that will begin play in the 2017-2018 hockey season.

New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, by all accounts the two most influential owners in the league, are both reportedly in support of the Raiders moving (though Kraft has been more vocal). And in December, at owners’ meetings in Texas, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he sees “some real strengths to the Las Vegas market,” which many saw as a positive sign for the Raiders.

Still, there could be long-held views among NFL owners that an NFL team (and the league, by extension) doesn’t belong in Vegas. Mark Davis needs 24 of the team owners to vote his way, and it could be a close vote, especially with owners hyper-aware that after allowing both the Rams and Chargers to move to LA, the league looks more money-hungry than ever, and may be wary of letting a third team abandon its fan base.

The vote is expected to take place at the next owners’ meeting, from March 26-29 in Phoenix. It is the only thing left standing in Davis’s way.

An additional headache would be Sheldon Adelson’s role in the stadium financing, since Adelson has said he expects to get an ownership stake in the team for his contributions. But last week, in a surprising twist, Raiders executives told the NFL that Goldman Sachs has committed to funding the stadium even if the $650 million from Adelson does not come through. (Goldman Sachs also financed the Chargers’ move to LA; the firm declined comment for this story.)

Adelson has been the largest driving force (apart from Davis) behind the effort to move the Raiders to Las Vegas. He met with Davis repeatedly, met with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and helped find the stadium builder. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the tireless efforts of the Adelson family,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said in a statement.

As Adelson told Yahoo Finance in September, “[Davis] needs somebody to build it and he needs somebody with a deep pocket that can guarantee it… I’m one of the four big operators in town, so it’s not difficult for me. I’ve done a lot of building and I can guarantee the construction. And if the local government knows I’m behind it, they can feel comfortable because I’ve changed the town, in regards to conventions.”

It would be a stunning reversal if Adelson were cut from the process, but the league has a policy that bars anyone involved in a gambling business from being a team owner. Some experts believe that policy is outdated and only exists in theory, and Adelson called it “an old wives’ tale.” But an NFL spokesperson confirms to Yahoo Finance, “That is the current policy.”

The policy designates a business as “gambling-related” if one third or more of revenues in any of the past three years comes from “gambling-related operations.” The $44 billion market cap Las Vegas Sands (LVS), which mainly owns casinos and resorts like The Venetian Las Vegas, The Palazzo, The Venetian Macau, and Marina Bay Sands, would appear to fit the bill.

But if Goldman Sachs will extend Davis whatever funding he needs, then it won’t matter if owners don’t approve of Adelson as a Raiders part owner. NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman even told the league’s stadium and finance committees last week that the Raiders are considering “potentially doing it without Mr. Adelson if it comes down to that.”

Regardless of who finances the new stadium, the Raiders will likely have to play another two (awkward) seasons in Oakland while the Vegas stadium gets built, unlike the Rams and Chargers, who are playing temporarily in two separate LA stadiums as they await their new home.

The fate of the Las Vegas Raiders (a term Mark Davis has already filed to trademark) is now fully in the hands of the other 31 NFL team owners.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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