The history of Las Vegas has been marked by an incessant bustle of hotels, casinos, theaters and restaurants. But only recently has the city’s landscape included major professional sports teams.
The Golden Knights of the National Hockey League were the first to begin playing here in 2017. The Aces of the Women’s National Basketball Association began in 2018, and the Raiders of the National Football League arrived from Oakland in 2020. The year Last year, Major League Baseball’s A’s were given the go-ahead to make the same move from Oakland to Las Vegas, and the National Basketball Association is expected to add a team in the coming years.
The transformation of Las Vegas into a professional sports city reflects not only the leagues’ interest in the city and its general acceptance of sports betting, but also the power of the region’s main economic driver, tourism. No other major American city relies so much on a single industry, and a broad coalition led by major resort operators helped secure lucrative subsidies to build new stadiums, with the idea that out-of-town visitors 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 Las Vegas offers is a platform for people with great ideas to come and make them a reality,” said Steve Hill, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the man most responsible for helping attract teams. To the city. “We are a destination that is trying to say yes.”
However, not everyone has adopted that strategy. In Las Vegas, the decision to set aside public money for private teams has amplified scrutiny of state funding for critical social services, especially for education in the nation’s fifth-largest public school district, with about 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 assist the A’s in building a stadium. Lombardo’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
“It really is 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 funding the Allegiant Stadium. “If you really wanted to diversify the economy, does sport add a component? Yes. But they didn’t need public tax money to do it.”
However, fighting the region’s economic engine is a difficult task. Lawmakers have tried to diversify the economy for years, but Las Vegas remains wedded to tourism. Almost 41 million people visited it in 2023.
Economists almost universally say that publicly funded stadiums are not self-financing. Hill acknowledges the skepticism, but insists that Las Vegas is different because most of the subsidies are funded by hotel taxes paid by out-of-towners.
“A lot of places build stadiums for community development reasons, and God bless them, but it’s not really an economic benefit,” Hill said in his office filled with memories of grand openings and dedications. “But here we have a lot of people who come to Las Vegas because of the events that take place at the stadium.”
Hill has led efforts over the past decade to diversify an economy prone to booms and busts. He came to Las Vegas in 1987 to run a cement company, ushering in an era of unprecedented construction, and later became active in the Chamber of Commerce and industry groups dedicated to fueling the city’s breakneck growth. He also raised money for Brian Sandoval, who was elected governor in 2010 and appointed Hill to run the economic development office.
After getting Apple, Tesla and other companies to move to northern Nevada, Hill was assigned in 2015 to help boost tourism in southern Nevada by trying to expand the convention center and build a stadium to attract a sports team. soccer to Las Vegas. He got county and state power brokers to provide $750 million to help the Raiders build Allegiant Stadium. And, as chairman of the Convention and Visitors Authority since 2018, he has attracted a Formula 1 race and helped win support for $380 million in public subsidies for the stadium 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 powerful business interests in Las Vegas, especially resort and casino operators and the culinary workers union.
“Steve was instrumental because of his background,” said Bill Hornbuckle, CEO of MGM Resorts International. “He knew all the right cast of characters.”
Hill heads both the convention authority and the stadium authority, prompting criticism that he wields so much power that he can push through deals that favor the business community at the expense of residents.
“There really aren’t 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 for The Nevada Independent. “The people who cheered for this football stadium are the same people who participated in its creation.”
By Hill’s calculations, the subsidies spent on Allegiant Stadium were money well spent. About half of the fans who attended games, concerts and other events at the stadium were from outside Las Vegas, nearly double the original projection of 27 percent. Most of them paid hotel taxes, ate out, rented cars and gambled in casinos, he said.
But JC Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said dollars spent on stadiums would be spent elsewhere in the city, and that most of the revenue from stadiums often went to the teams that rented them. . Some visitors also avoid Las Vegas when there are football games and other big events in town because the price of hotel rooms often rises.
“People get causality backwards,” Bradbury said. “People say it’s a big league city because it has a team. No, they used to be a big city and that’s why the team went there.”
Then there’s the question of what else the county and state could do with the money collected from various taxes. For years, the region’s schools, which are funded by sales and property taxes and other social services, have not kept up with the growth of the tourism industry. Nevada ranks near the bottom of the country in class size and spending per student, child care spending and environmental quality, and is near the top in gambling and drug addiction.
Vicki Kreidel, a plaintiff in the A’s funding lawsuit, teaches reading a 20-minute drive from the Strip at Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, a public magnet school where 100 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. The students she works with primarily learned a language other than English first and need small group intervention because they are reading below grade level.
However, Ms. Kreidel said reading centers like the one at her school existed in relatively few elementary schools in the Clark County School District. Teachers describe a lack of resources to support their students and outdated facilities in need of repair, which a district spokesperson attributed to insufficient funding from the state. There are more than 1,300 vacant teaching positions, the district added.
Ariane Prichard, a ninth-grade biology teacher at Bonanza Middle School, said that due to a teacher shortage in the district, her average class size was 36 students. She and other members of her department have had to use their prep period to teach an extra section so the classes don’t get larger. They get paid for the extra class and then do the prep work on their own time.
Last year, Ms. Kreidel, president of a local chapter of the state teachers union, testified in favor of more funding for public schools during Nevada’s biennial legislative session. A 2023 report from 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 praised the passage of the state’s largest education budget in May, but the budget did not close the per-pupil gap.
A few weeks later, a day before vetoing a bill that would have provided free, universal breakfast and lunch to students, Lombardo signed the $380 million public financing bill for the A’s stadium into law. Kreidel called that decision a “knife in the stomach.”
He said he had vowed to never set foot inside Allegiant Stadium. Another elementary teacher in the district, LaTasha Olsen, even tries to avoid passing by.
“It always makes me angry,” Olsen said. “I haven’t been to the stadium. I don’t want to go to the stadium. No.”
He added: “It just represents that we don’t care. We don’t care about teachers. We don’t care about our students. “We care about our tourism.”