Professional sports in Las Vegas are not applauded by everyone

Las Vegas’ history has been marked by a never-ending flow of hotels, casinos, theaters and restaurants. But only recently has the city’s landscape included major professional sports teams.

The National Hockey League’s Golden Knights were the first to play here in 2017. The Women’s National Basketball Association’s Aces began operations in 2018, and the National Football League’s Raiders arrived from Oakland in 2020. last year, Major League Baseball athletes were given the green light to make the same move from Oakland to Las Vegas, with the National Basketball Association expected to add a team in coming years.

Las Vegas’ transformation into a professional sports city reflects not only the leagues’ interest in the city and their general adoption of sports betting, but also the power of the region’s primary economic driver, tourism. No other major city in the United States relies so much on a single industry, and a broad coalition led by major resort operators helped secure lucrative grants to build new stadiums, in hopes that visitors to outside the city would follow.

Those efforts will be on display Sunday when Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders and built in part with public money, hosts Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.

“Our role here and what Vegas offers is a platform for people with big ideas to come in and make them happen,” said Steve Hill, chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the man most responsible to help encourage the teams. . Towards the city. “We’re a destination that’s trying to say yes.”

However, not everyone has adopted this strategy. In Las Vegas, the decision to set aside public funds for private teams has amplified scrutiny of state funding of essential social services, including education in regions across the country. fifth largest public school districtt, with around 300,000 students.

This week, a group of Nevada teachers sued the state and its governor, Joe Lombardo, challenging the constitutionality of a law passed last year to financially help the A’s build a stadium. Mr. Lombardo’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

“It’s really the haves and the have-nots,” said one of the plaintiffs, Christina Giunchigliani, who in 2016 was the only member of the seven-person Clark County Commission to vote against stadium funding Allegiant. “If they really wanted to diversify the economy, does sport add a component to it? Forks. But they didn’t need taxpayer money to do it.

Combating the region’s economic engine, however, is no easy feat. Lawmakers have been trying to diversify the economy for years, but Las Vegas remains addicted to tourism. Almost 41 million people visited in 2023.

Economists almost universally argue that publicly financed stadiums are unprofitable. Mr. Hill acknowledges this skepticism, but insists that Las Vegas is different because most of the subsidies are financed by hotel taxes paid by foreigners.

“A lot of places build stadiums for community-building reasons, and God bless them, but it doesn’t really represent an economic benefit,” Mr. Hill said in his office filled with memorabilia from inaugurations and ballroom ceremonies. inauguration. “But here we get so many people who come to Las Vegas because of the events that are happening in the stadium.”

Mr. Hill has led efforts over the past decade to diversify an economy prone to ups and downs. He arrived in Las Vegas in 1987 to run a cement company, arriving at the start of an era of unprecedented construction and later became active in the Chamber of Commerce and industry groups dedicated to fueling the city’s meteoric growth. city. He also raised money for Brian Sandoval, who was elected governor in 2010 and tapped Mr. Hill to run the economic development office.

After leading Apple, Tesla and other companies to locate in Northern Nevada, Mr. Hill was tasked in 2015 with helping to boost tourism in Southern Nevada by trying to expand the convention center and to build a stadium to attract a football team to Las Vegas. He asked county and state power players to provide $750 million to help the Raiders build Allegiant Stadium. And, as chairman of the Convention and Visitors Authority since 2018, he attracted a Formula 1 race and helped secure support for $380 million in public grants for the ballpark the A’s want to build. (The Golden Knights did not use public money to build their arena.)

One of Mr. Hill’s skills has been balancing Las Vegas’ powerful business interests, particularly the resort and casino operators and the culinary workers’ union.

“Steve has been critical because of his background,” said Bill Hornbuckle, chief executive of MGM Resorts International. “He knew all the right characters.”

Mr. Hill heads both the Congressional Authority and the Stadium Authority, drawing criticism that he exercises so much power that he can pass agreements that favor business over residents.

“There aren’t really the checks and balances that I would like to see when it comes to public policy and Steve Hill and his organization,” said Michael Schaus, a columnist at the Nevada Independent. “The people who applauded for this football stadium are the same people who helped make it happen.”

Mr. Hill denies the criticism and says he has recused himself from handling funding requests over potential conflicts of interest. Mr. Hill said the grants for Allegiant Stadium were money well spent. About half of the fans attending games, concerts and other events at the stadium came from outside Las Vegas, nearly double the original projection of 27 percent. Most of them paid hotel taxes, ate at restaurants, rented cars and gambled at casinos, he said.

But JC Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said dollars spent on stadiums would otherwise be spent elsewhere in the city and that most of the stadium’s profits often went to the teams that rented them. Some visitors also avoid Las Vegas when football games and other large events are in town because hotel room prices often rise.

“People understand reverse causality,” Mr. Bradbury said. “People say it’s a big league town because it has a team. No, it used to be a big city, and that’s why the team went there.

Then there is the question of what else the county and state could do with the money from various taxes. For years, the area’s schools, funded by sales and property taxes and other social services, have not kept pace with the growth of the tourism industry. Nevada ranks near the bottom of the nation in class size and per-pupil spending, child care expenses and environmental quality, and ranks among the top in terms of gambling and drug addiction.

Vicki Kreidel, a plaintiff in the A’s defunding lawsuit, teaches reading a 20-minute drive from the Strip at Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, a public magnet school where 100 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. The students she works with first learned a language other than English and need small group intervention because they are reading below their grade level.

Still, Ms. Kreidel said reading centers like the one at her school exist in relatively few elementary schools in the Clark County School District. Teachers describe a lack of resources to support their students and facilities that are dilapidated and in need of repair, which a district spokesperson attributed to insufficient state funding. There are more than 1,300 vacant teaching positions, the district added.

Ariane Prichard, a ninth-grade biology teacher at Bonanza High School, said that due to the district’s teacher shortage, her average class size was 36 students. She and other members of her department had to use their preparation time to teach an extra section so that classes didn’t grow. They are paid for the additional course and then do preparation work in their free time.

Last year, Ms. Kreidel, president of a local affiliate of the state teachers union, testified in favor of increased funding for public schools during Nevada’s biennial legislative session. HAS 2023 Report by the state Commission on School Finance showed the state was spending about $4,000 less per student than the recommended level. The Nevada Department of Education welcomed the passage of the state’s largest education budget in May, but the budget did not close the per-pupil deficit.

A few weeks later — a day before vetoing a bill that would have provided free breakfast and lunch to students — Mr. Lombardo signed the $380 million state funding bill into law for Stadium A. Ms. Kreidel called the decision “a knife in the stomach.”

She said she vowed to never set foot inside Allegiant Stadium. Another elementary school teacher in the district, LaTasha Olsen, even tries to avoid walking past.

“It makes me angry every time,” Ms. Olsen said. “I didn’t go to the stadium. I don’t want to go to the stadium. No.”

She added: “It just means we don’t care. We don’t care about teachers. We don’t care about our students. “We care about our tourism.”