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Listen carefully to what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday about the involvement of a casino in owning part of a team or a stadium, and recent bumps on the Oakland Raiders' road to Las Vegas start to make more sense.
"We recognize gambling occurs out in the marketplace, (but) we have rules that are in place," Goodell said at his annual Super Bowl media conference. "The Raiders have not asked us to compromise those rules as it relates to our policies. We will continue to have that separation going forward. I don't see an ownership position in a team from a casino."
It's also "not likely" a stake in a stadium would be permitted, Goodell said. That might partly explain why the Raiders left billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson out of the business plan they presented to other league owners Jan. 11 -- weeks before Adelson announced in a stern statement Monday that he and his family would "no longer be involved in any facet of the stadium discussion."
There always were doubts about how Adelson, the 83-year-old CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., intended to make back the $650 million he'd pledged toward the city's nearly $2 billion stadium project. If his angle was to gain an equity stake in the Raiders, that was unlikely -- for a variety of reasons -- despite his key role in securing $750 million in public funding.
Uncertainty remained about whether NFL owners would approve a project if Adelson were attached. So Monday's announcement shouldn't really have surprised anybody. Reports that another key financier with ties to Adelson, Goldman Sachs, was following him out the door just put the Raiders up against the clock to secure a loan elsewhere before a targeted March vote.
The public funding still exists for now, so there's little reason to doubt the Raiders' sincerity in a statement Monday that said they "remain steadfast in honoring Mark Davis' commitment to Governor (Brian) Sandoval and the State of Nevada to pursue relocation to Las Vegas."
Frankly, they don't have anywhere else to go.
NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman told USA TODAY Sports he remains in contact with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. But things haven't changed there since December, when Grubman said a last-ditch plan to save the Raiders was a "carbon copy" of past failed efforts, thanks in part to the involvement of a private investor group.
"In order to be able to do a deal, it has to be specific and it has to be actionable -- meaning someone can actually proceed to do it -- and it has to be free of major contingencies," Grubman said. "If you ask what things fall into that camp in Oakland, some of them are fairly obvious. They don't know what they can build on that site until they know whether they're building one or two stadiums (the other for Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics). They don't know when they can build until they know whether they're building one or two. It goes on from there."
San Diego officials might love to stick it to the recently relocated Chargers by luring the Raiders south, where their fan base is very strong. And it's a good bet the NFL would offer the Raiders the same $300 million there that had been promised to both teams toward a stadium deal in their existing markets. There's no way to get through referendums and legislative steps in a matter of weeks, though, so San Diego wouldn't be an option until at least 2018.
Grubman said the Raiders haven't withdrawn or modified their relocation application. And Goodell indirectly acknowledged the NFL's hope is still for the league's thorough vetting process to be complete before the next league meetings in March. Twenty-four of 32 owners would need to approve the Raiders' move.
"The Raiders submitted an application -- one that we're considering carefully -- but there's a great deal more work to be done," Goodell said. "And there are several elements of that. Financing of the stadium is just one. Obviously, the stadium project itself, the depth of the market -- all of those are things that we've studied over the last several months, but that will increase in intensity over the next month or so as we move forward in that process."
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