The NFL publicly hated Las Vegas. We’re not talking about a decade or two ago, either.
The same league that pressured Tony Romo to cancel a fantasy football event in Las Vegas in June of 2015 because it was in a convention center attached to a casino (the horror!) is probably going to vote to move one of its 32 teams to Las Vegas on Monday. The Oakland Raiders, looking for a new stadium for years and sliced out of the NFL’s Los Angeles relocation last year, will have enough votes to move to Las Vegas according to multiple reports. It would be a major upset if that relocation vote doesn’t pass during the owners meetings, especially after the NFL trashed Oakland’s last-ditch attempt to keep the Raiders.
The NFL has treated Las Vegas like it was the plague for many years, but Vegas never offered up $750 million in public money for a stadium before. If there’s something Las Vegas and the NFL have always agreed upon, it’s that money always speaks the loudest.
Either the NFL is selling out (the league’s public distaste of Vegas ran so deep not long ago that it denied Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority advertisements during the Super Bowl), or it’s taking the NBA’s lead and (gasp!) acknowledging that gambling isn’t the worst thing in the world. In an interview with Peter King of The MMQB, Goodell said the league isn’t changing its position on legalized sports gambling (“We still don’t think it is a positive thing,” he told King), but he also recognized that most people don’t view gambling as evil.
“I think also you have to realize the changes that are evolving in society on gambling,” Goodell said, according to the MMQB. “Second: I think Las Vegas has evolved as a city. It’s not just a singular industry. While it is still dominated by [the gambling industry], there is a lot of entertainment going there, including political conventions.”
The NFL will have to battle some perceptions with a team in Las Vegas, mostly because everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. To protect against that in the past, NFL officials were not allowed to visit Las Vegas during the season with the exception of personal emergencies or mandatory meetings for their non-NFL jobs, according to ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, and were barred from sportsbooks in the offseason. NFL officials will go from those restrictions to working in Las Vegas at least eight games out of the year. Again, moving a team to Las Vegas is a major shift for the league.
The NFL has been vigilant, often in an over-the-top way, to maintain a public image that it is entirely separated from gambling. On Monday afternoon, the owners are expected to vote to move a team to Las Vegas, in a shiny new stadium a short Uber ride from the lights of the Las Vegas Strip. Who would have thought even a year or two ago that a very conservative league was willing to making that move?
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