‘Las Vegas Raiders’ are the oddsmakers’ favorites but still a logistical long shot

 

Back in February, when the idea of the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas was just beginning to percolate, there wasn’t an oddsmaker in town who felt such a move was anywhere near realistic. 

In fact, the odds were probably somewhere between preposterous and never. With the NFL’s long-held, though hypocritical, stance against sports betting, seeing the Silver and Black run out of the tunnel at a proposed new stadium seemed about as likely as a mule winning the Kentucky Derby.

“The early odds were obviously infinitely higher,” says Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US and a longtime operative in the sportsbook world. “I’d have put it at 500/1, 1,000/1, some crazy odds.”

Tony Miller, director of race and sports for the Golden Nugget, would have stretched those odds even further.

“I would probably say 5,000/1. Not happening. Not ever,” Miller says.

But after an April 28 meeting with the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, at which a plan to build a $1.4-billion stadium was put forth, odds began to shift in a hurry. That’s because Raiders owner Mark Davis was also at the meeting, and he pledged to contribute $500 million – including a $200 million loan from the NFL – to prove just how serious he was about moving the team to Sin City.

“That meeting obviously makes it legitimate,” Bogdanovich says, noting that renowned hotel-casino owner Steve Wynn has shown support for fellow casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., which would contribute $150 million to the stadium. “You’ve got the fact that Wynn is interested, and you know Adelson is interested, and then the fact that Davis is offering to put in $500 million.”

In much the same way that a five or six-figure bet might move the line on a game, a nine-figure offer – half-a-billion dollars, at that – most assuredly moved the odds in favor of a Raiders relocation.

“It went from where I really didn’t have odds on it to where it looks like a pick ‘em,” Bogdanovich says. “Maybe even a slight favorite.”

He wasn’t alone in his assessment.

“I was very pessimistic at the beginning, but after (that) press conference, I really believe it’s close to a pick ‘em,” Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports at the Westgate’s Las Vegas Superbook, tells Covers. “If the private funds come in at the levels I’m hearing, and Davis commits to $500 million, I believe they can easily allocate the rest from the tourist tax initiative.”

That’s where the rest of the funding is proposed to come from – about $750 million, which would either be diverted from current tourist taxes or from an increase in those levies, moves that would have to come from the Nevada Legislature.

Before proponents of the Raiders’ move – which would also require approval from 24 of the league’s 32 owners – can even get to that point, though, there’s the aforementioned issue of the NFL’s gambling stance.

On April 29, just a day after Mark Davis’ big-money push for the stadium and a subsequent Raiders move, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in with a comment that started out positive, but ended up perplexing.

“All of us have evolved a little bit on gambling,” Goodell said in an interview on ESPN Radio, before showing he still has some evolving to do. “To me, where I cross the line is anything that can impact the integrity of the game. If people think it is something that can influence the outcome of a game, we are absolutely opposed to that.”

Goodell oversees an operation that produced more than $12 billion in revenue in 2015, yet he seems to have not done much homework on how money works in sports betting. Nevada sportsbooks had a record 2015, with more than $4 billion in handle for legal, regulated betting. 

Such wagering is not the problem in sports. Rather, the issue is the massive amount of unregulated betting – ostensibly the betting black market – with estimates ranging between $150 billion and $400 billion wagered annually nationwide.

Goodell’s concern is purportedly based on sports betting affecting the NFL’s integrity. If that’s the case, then Nevada’s allowance is more part of the solution than part of the problem.

“If the league is concerned about improving the integrity of the game, the solution is having legal, regulated, transparent sports betting,” Sara Rayme, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Gaming Association, tells Covers.

In fact, the NFL already has such a model upon which to base how it handles sports betting. The league has held annual regular season games in London since 2005, starting with just one game that year, expanding to two in 2013 and three in 2014 and 2015, with three more slated for the 2016 season. Bettors in the United Kingdom can find any number of legal sportsbooks from which to wager, including shops right near Wembley Stadium.

So denying Las Vegas a team based on Nevada’s legal wagering would represent a frustrating double-standard, Rayme says.

“Absolutely. It’s an apples-to-apples comparison,” Rayme says of London and Las Vegas. “You have a microcosm of sports betting that’s legal and transparent. Obviously, having transparency, regulations, having legal sports betting doesn’t hurt the integrity. When you have all things brought out into the sunshine and inspected for irregularities, you’re so much better off than having your head in the sand.”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board declined comment on the Raiders’ proposed move as it relates to betting, preferring to point to the portion of the state regulation that addresses which pro sports wagers are prohibited:

“Any event, regardless of where it is held, involving a professional team whose home field, a court, or base is in Nevada, or any event played in Nevada involving a professional team, if, not later than 30 days before an event or the beginning of a series of events, the team’s governing body files with the commission a written request that wagers on the event or series of events be prohibited, and the commission approves the request.”

That’s a mouthful for one sentence, but would appear to mean that disallowing bets on a Las Vegas-based NFL team would be up to the league to pursue, and if the league wanted to deny such wagers, the state gaming commission would have to approve that request.

Would the NFL actual push for prohibition, particularly since the league and its TV network partners are fully immersed in fantasy football, which could rightly be argued is a form of sports betting?

“That is a good question,” Bogdanovich says. “I have no idea, but I believe (the NFL) works with the state to find a solution.”

Kornegay agreed with that assessment and took it a step further.

“I don’t believe this is an issue in today’s climate,” he says. “I certainly believe (the betting issue) will come up for discussion, but the NFL has hosted other events in sports gaming jurisdictions (London and Mexico) and didn’t ask them to take games off the board.

“I can’t imagine they would change that for Las Vegas, not to mention it would send the wrong message. We’ve taken wagers on our college teams (UNLV and UNR) for over a decade and have had no issues. It would be hard to imagine we would be able to take wagers on our college teams, but not our pro teams. That wouldn’t make sense.”

You won’t get any argument on that logic from the American Gaming Association, with Rayme saying that she doesn’t think Nevada’s legal sports betting represents a death knell to the Raiders’ proposal.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say (the NFL) will base a decision 100 percent on the fact that sports betting is legal in Nevada,” she says. “I think it would absolutely be a part of a multi-faceted discussion they’ll have to have about a team moving there. They’ve been able to thread the needle on this issue in London.”

Joe Fortenbaugh has a unique perspective on the Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas. He lived in Las Vegas for three years, while writing for the National Football Post website. Then in 2014, he moved to the Bay Area, where he is now a morning radio host on 95.7 The Game – the Raiders’ flagship station. Fortenbaugh acknowledges that there is a boatload of momentum seemingly expecting this proposal to become reality.

“Everything you’re hearing points more and more to the Raiders moving to Las Vegas,” Fortenbaugh tells Covers, noting Goodell’s remarks, along with comments in the past week from influential Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in an ESPN interview. “Opinions are shifting on gambling.”

However, Fortenbaugh said those opinions will ultimately collide with undeniable financial facts.

“You’re telling me the Raiders are going to move from market No. 4 to market No. 40?” he queried. “The Raiders just announced that their 50,000 season tickets (for 2016) sold out. Raiders fans don’t care that the Coliseum is a dump. They just want to go watch football.

“You’re telling me the NFL is gonna take a team from a market of 7 million and approve a move to a market of 2 million? That doesn’t sound like the greatest business move for a 20 to 25-year plan. The first couple of years would be awesome. Maybe for two years, the Raiders would be able to sell the concept. But I don’t think 20 years from now it will be viable.”

Furthermore, Davis has a problem with his bloodlines. Although Al Davis died in October 2011, his multiple lawsuits against the league continue to leave a foul taste in the mouths of other NFL team owners.

“A lot of owners hold a grudge and aren’t going to help them,” said Fortenbaugh, specifically pointing to a comment earlier this year from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair in a New York Times Magazine piece by Mark Leibovich. Said McNair: “Oakland gets nothing. Al used to sue us all the time.”

So, speaking purely from an odds-setting perspective, if one could bet on the Raiders’ move, what should the odds be?

“If you were setting true odds, 15 or 20/1,” Fortenbaugh says. “But you can’t set them that high (in Las Vegas), because you put yourself out there with liability. Look at it like the Tiger Woods affect. He was still at 7 or 8/1 to win the Masters, years after winning his last major. Books had to make him a favorite because they take more bets on Tiger than anyone else.

“It’s the same thing here. You’ve got to put a short number out there because that’s what people would bet on (happening) right now. But I’ve lived in Vegas, and now I’m on the Raiders’ flagship. It’s something I’ve studied left and right. If I’m laying down a bet, I’m saying no, I don’t see it happening.”

While these odds from industry experts are simply for fun (and the control board doesn’t allow wagering on such props), one offshore sportsbook is actually taking action on whether or not there will be a “Las Vegas Raiders” by August 2020. 

Online market Sportsbook.ag has the “Yes” as a -165 favorite, with the “No” the team will no relocate to Sin City at +130. “Yes” had originally opened at -150 and has been bet up with prop bettors believing the Silver and Black will eventually call the Silver State home.

“The Raiders are going to be moving. That said, we know (Roger) Goodell’s stance on gambling and Las Vegas, so they’re not going to do anything to help them here,” says Peter Childs, supervisor of risk management for Sportsbook.ag, who sees a move to Austin or San Antonio as the more probable outcome. “So while we made the ‘Yes’ the favorite, I believe they’re still a long way away from getting this done.”

While legalized sports betting stands out as a potential problem, Fortenbaugh’s analysis points to an equally important aspect of this proposal: Are Mark Davis and the Raiders really looking to cash their chips in Vegas, or use Sin City as a bargaining chip in order to strike a better stadium deal elsewhere?

Are they hoping to get a new venue in Oakland, or find greener pastures as the second team in Los Angeles, or even move to San Diego if the Chargers ultimately become the No. 2 L.A. team?

As a longtime sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, Mark Purdy is certainly familiar with the Raiders’ modus operandi through the years. To say he’s not sold is an understatement, as a day before the big meeting last month, he wrote in his blog:

“I still believe that by 2018 or 2019, the Raiders will be playing in either Los Angeles or at Levi’s Stadium (with the 49ers),” Purdy wrote. “Just don’t ask me to ‘pledge’ that it will happen. And just make sure to put any Las Vegas ‘pledge’ by Davis in perspective. Lots of people make lots of promises to each other in Sin City. How many of them stick?”

But here in Vegas, people are starting to believe the city is far less a bargaining chip than Fortenbaugh and Purdy would suggest.

“At first, many people thought that, including myself. But now, I feel they have more legs to this,” Kornegay says, pointing to the April 28 meeting before the tourism infrastructure committee as a key turning point. “The committee, I believe, will put a recommendation together for the allocation of (stadium) funds from the tourist tax.”

Miller has come a long way off the 5,000/1 odds he’d have set against the move a couple of months ago.

“I’ve absolutely turned a 180 on the idea,” he says. “On the day of the press conference, that was impressive, because it was also NFL Draft day. Most owners are in the war room. For Davis to come here early in the morning and say what he did, that sold me right there. I’ve talked to some guys. He’s very, very serious about moving out here.”

Bogdanovich echoes that sentiment, “The meeting was a major positive. Mark Davis looked like he was dead serious, and the power brokers in town look like they’re dead serious.”

Miller noted the $750 million piece of the stadium puzzle is no small issue, along with getting 24 of 32 owners on board. But to that end, the aforementioned comments from the Cowboys’ Jones certainly would seem to help the proposal.

“I would probably put odds in that ‘yes’ is the favorite over the ‘no.’ Let’s make it a big favorite: -1,000,” Miller says, noting the stadium – with a bevy of ancillary benefits far beyond the Raiders (UNLV football/bowl games, NCAA basketball tournament regionals, concerts, conventions, etc.) – represents a massive opportunity. “This is too big for the state and too big for Vegas to pass up. It would be a shot in the arm we could never dream of.”

Should the infrastructure committee indeed recommend the tax funding, the next hurdle would be gaining approval from the Legislature. If that hurdle can be cleared, along with gaining owners’ support, then the Raiders’ proposition becomes even more likely. And the sports betting issue could become the final hurdle to leap.

That, Rayme says, should be the easiest part.

“We certainly don’t think a team shouldn’t move there because of concerns about sports betting. Sportsbooks in Nevada have worked well with law enforcement to address concerns about the integrity of games being compromised,” she says, while again coming back to legal sports betting – including on NFL games – across the pond. “It’s already happening in the UK. They’re doing a great job, and that’s through a partnership with leagues, the [gaming] industry and law enforcement, identifying when suspicious betting takes place.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.

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