Nevada Senate Approves $750 Million For Vegas Stadium Despite Needing Money For Hospitals, Schools

I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy doesn't work.

Oct 12 2016, 2:30pm

God dammit this is really happening. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are big, obvious things that make you lose faith in the democratic process, like Donald Trump and the entire 2016 election cycle. And then there are smaller but still very significant things, like the Nevada state senate voting 16-5 to give casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis at least $750 million of taxpayer money to build a football stadium in Las Vegas.

The only thing left before the deal becomes official is for the state assembly to vote on the same measure, which could happen as soon as today [update: they did]. All that's left is for Oakland to tell the Raiders to scram—and it looks like they will—and the NFL owners to approve the move, which, I've never known someone to turn down $750 million before.

Which is just a huge fucking bummer. For starters, Stanford economist Roger Noll, who has been studying public stadium financing issues for 20 years, testified at the one-day hearing that the deal was the "worst I've ever seen," and called the Raiders' economic study "deeply flawed" for a whole host of reasons, including that it assumes one-third of ticket-buyers would be tourists, a completely unprecedented figure that bears no resemblance to reality. (Think about that for a second: 22,000 people every game paying NFL ticket prices to go to an NFL game instead of doing Vegas things...why, exactly?) But 16 of the state senate members didn't care. They voted for it anyways, even though if Noll is right, the people they represent will be on the hook for the missing revenue, not tourists or billionaires.

Then there's the little fact that, in a few months, the state of Nevada will have to make significant cuts to public services due to its $400 million budget deficit, including in areas such as hospitals and schools. You know what has never saved a person's life? A football stadium.

But this is an especially huge bummer because it cements the notion that we are entering a second, worse phase of American stadium boom financed by the public. American cities aren't just ignoring the lessons from the 1990s and 2000s about the heavy cost of publicly funded stadiums. They're doubling down. The price tag for the new Braves stadium in Cobb County, the new Falcons stadium in Atlanta, the proposed Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington all have taxpayer contributions of $500 million or more, double the average of what we saw during the stadium boom of the 90s and 2000s. Not only is the problem still here, but it's getting a lot worse.

And this is all happening against the voters' will. A September poll found that Nevada voters opposed the Vegas stadium deal "across nearly all demographic lines," which is pretty remarkable when you consider the current political climate in which people don't agree about anything. In July, Cobb County voters hurled the architect of the Braves move out of office, largely due to his gross use of public funds in the deal. Most Atlantans (66 percent) didn't want the new Falcons stadium, either.

It is also worth pointing out that these deals are all happening under Republican governments, the party that allegedly prides itself on fiscal responsibility and cutting government spending. Nine of the 16 state senators who voted for the Vegas deal were Republican. Three of the five who voted against the bill were Democrats.

The most dangerous part of this deal, though, is the precedent it might set. If it does indeed go through, $750 million will be the largest public contribution to any stadium in America ever. The bar is now raised, and in the world of stadium financing, that means another owner, sometime soon, is going to ask for more.