Ve­gas rolls the dice and comes up a win­ner

Manteca Bulletin - - Sports - Associated Press Sports Colum­nist

This was a sight no self-re­spect­ing bookie in this gam­bling town would have ever laid odds on see­ing.

There was Roger Good­ell, prais­ing Las Ve­gas with the lights of the glit­ter­ing Strip shin­ing brightly be­hind him. In the au­di­ence were a trio of NFL own­ers (though not Jerry Jones) who had to be just a lit­tle en­vi­ous about the rich pos­si­bil­i­ties that await Mark Davis and his Raiders.

There was no talk about the evils of sports bet­ting, no warn­ings about play­ers find­ing their way into casi­nos. The city they had snubbed for so many years was now one of their own, with the sanc­ti­mo­nious hypocrisy of the past con­ve­niently aban­doned be­fore the first cer­e­mo­nial shov­els of dirt were turned.

The Raiders won’t play here un­til the 2020 sea­son

at the ear­li­est, but Mon­day night’s of­fi­cial ground­break­ing for a $1.9 bil­lion sta­dium made it seem like they were al­ready home. Great Raiders of the past like Jim Plun­kett and Howie Long were on hand for the turnover, and there was hardly a men­tion of Oak­land the en­tire night.

Amaz­ing what $750 mil­lion can do.

That, as it turns out, is the price of ad­mis­sion to the most ex­clu­sive club in Amer­i­can sports. A bit pricey, yes, but not a prob­lem in a city that laid off the bet on tourists, who will pick up the tab in in­creased room taxes.

What be­gan 20 months ago as lit­tle more than a con­cept — a pipe dream, per­haps — is sud­denly very real. There are still is­sues that re­main, in­clud­ing some cru­cial agree­ments for the new sta­dium, but no one in at­ten­dance at the splashy ground­break­ing was in any mood to hear about them.

The pres­ence of Good­ell and the own­ers with the lights of the Strip sparkling be­hind them was a bit star­tling, con­sid­er­ing the NFL’s out­right dis­dain over the years for ev­ery­thing Ve­gas. A league that re­fused to al­low the city to ad­ver­tise on the Su­per Bowl tele­cast just a few years ago now may be host­ing a Su­per Bowl there when the new sta­dium opens.

“The bright­est city in the world just got a lit­tle brighter,” said co­me­dian and long­time Raiders fan Ge­orge Lopez, the mas­ter of cer­e­monies.

In­deed, Las Ve­gas is on the kind of roll with ma­jor league sports that a craps player at Cae­sars Palace could only dream of.

Last month the NHL’s Ve­gas Golden Knights be­came the first ma­jor pro­fes­sional fran­chise to call the city home, and so far they have been a smash­ing suc­cess on the ice and in the stands. In a city long shunned by pro­fes­sional sports be­cause of gam­bling and a rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion base, the hockey team tore down the bar­ri­ers and both lo­cals and tourists have been lin­ing up to buy tick­ets.

The NBA prac­ti­cally spends its sum­mers here, and the big­gest casino op­er­a­tor in town is look­ing to even­tu­ally lure a fran­chise to the city. MGM Re­sorts has al­ready bought a WNBA team that will be­gin play here next year, and the same arena used by the Golden Knights fig- ures to be a per­fect fit for an NBA team.

Las Ve­gas is the home of UFC and al­most every big box­ing match. NASCAR will hold not just one, but two, of its Sprint Cup races in the city next year, and five dif­fer­ent col­lege con­fer­ences bring teams to town for their an­nual bas­ket­ball tour­na­ments.

But it’s the NFL that changes ev­ery­thing, be­gin­ning in 2020 when the new sta­dium will be fin­ished and fans will be able to look out large win­dows in the north end zone to see the ho­tels on the Strip. They’ll also be able to put some money on the games at nearby casi­nos, then stroll over to catch the ac­tion.

That the NFL seems OK with that is an as­ton­ish­ing turn­around that only $750 mil­lion in sta­dium money could bring about. For years, Good­ell and oth­ers warned about the per­ils of Las Ve­gas, and play­ers were banned from ap­pear­ing at casino-spon­sored events in the city. The NFL is still pay­ing at­tor­neys to fight a pro­posed re­peal of a fed­eral law ban­ning sports bet­ting ev­ery­where but Ne­vada, a case that will be heard next month by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Good­ell sounded al­most giddy at the ground­break­ing about the NFL com­ing to Las Ve­gas. He wielded one of the shov­els with the Raiders logo for the cer­e­mo­nial ground­break­ing, and said he was “proud to be here with you.”

To the still dis­be­liev­ing it was liv­ing proof that the Raiders are ac­tu­ally com­ing.

Once again, Las Ve­gas rolled the dice and some­how came up a win­ner.

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