A’s move closer to Las Vegas stadium deal as Oakland fans protest team owner

Oh, and the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup in their privately funded arena

By: - June 14, 2023 5:15 am
vegas beware

Oakland Athletics fans display signs during a reverse boycott game against the Tampa Bay Rays at RingCentral Coliseum on June 13, 2023 in Oakland, California. (Photo: Brandon Vallance/Getty Images)

When it comes to sports, a lot happened Tuesday.

Cue the highlight reel:

In Carson City, Nevada state lawmakers advanced a bill to provide $380 million in public assistance for the Oakland Athletics, whose owner wants to build what would be Major League Baseball’s smallest stadium on a corner of prime real estate on the Las Vegas Strip. The billionaire in question, John Fisher, wasn’t among the team executives to appear before legislators, but a paid pitchman went on record saying the media-shy heir to Gap is “committed to bringing a winner to Las Vegas.”

Meanwhile, some 200 miles away, a grassroots group of A’s fans staged a “reverse boycott” at their neglected Coliseum, tripling recent attendance numbers and publicly calling on Fisher to sell the once-storied baseball team, which they feel he has mismanaged. Lining a sea of bright green shirts with “SELL” printed on them were signs openly calling for the firing of the leadership that had just hours earlier appeared before Nevada lawmakers to make a case for investing in them.

“Vegas Beware” cautioned one sign.

Around the same time A’s fans were picking up their “SELL” shirts and the state Assembly was adjourning for the day, the Vegas Golden Knights were unleashing a decisive 9-3 victory over the Florida Panthers and securing the Stanley Cup. The expansion team did it in game five, at home, in the privately funded T-Mobile Arena.

Excitement over the emergence of pro sports in Las Vegas is colliding with hesitations about taxpayers subsidizing a second stadium after shelling out $750 million for Allegiant Stadium.

Such concerns stalled the $380 million proposal known as SB1 in the Nevada State Senate for several days, but amendments publicly introduced Tuesday swung support in the A’s favor, propelling the bill to a 13-8 vote.

The Assembly, which held an hours-long “informational session” on the bill, could vote on the bill and send it to the governor’s office as early as Wednesday.

Chief among the amendments that swayed votes in favor of the A’s was a resurrected proposal to require any large companies receiving tax abatements through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to offer paid family medical leave to employees. State Sen. Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas, sponsored such legislation during this year’s regular session but it was vetoed by Gov. Joe Lombardo, who said it would handicap GOED’s ability to attract new businesses to the state.

The governor’s office did not respond to a question from the Current about whether Lombardo supports that provision being amended into the ballpark bill.

State Sen. Fabian Doñate, D-Las Vegas, cited the paid family medical leave amendment as a contributing factor in his change of heart on the ballpark. He voted for the bill after originally being publicly critical of the proposal and calling Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval “disingenuous” for not being willing to address pro sports teams’s exemptions to the state’s live entertainment tax.

Flores said before voting in favor of SB1 that he was “ready for the consequences and the criticisms” of his vote.

Joining Doñate and Flores in support were fellow Senate Democrats Nicole Cannizzaro, Skip Daly, Roberta Lange, Marilyn Dondero Loop,  James Ohrenschall and Julie Pazina, as well as Senate Republicans Heidi Seevers Gansert, Carrie Buck, Scott Hammond, Jeff Stone and Lisa Krasner.

Opposing the bill were Democratic state Sens. Dina Neal, Dallas Harris, Rochelle Nguyen, Melanie Scheible and Pat Spearman, as well as Republican state Sens. Ira Hansen, Pete Goicoechea and Robin Titus.

Hansen, who appeared virtually for the vote, in his floor statement rhetorically questioned why Fisher and the A’s can’t privately fund a stadium.

“I have no doubt that the A’s will make money, but if that’s the case why are we holding the taxpayers accountable for financing it?” He asked. “If there’s that much wealth that’s going to be generated, there are people known as venture capitalists out there that have billions of dollars and would love the opportunity to invest in a project that’s such a guaranteed profit maker.”

Neal opposed on similar grounds, saying that Nevada is “a state, not a corporation.” She added that although she was voting against it, she believed the amended bill was significantly better than the bill as introduced.

Spearman notably voted for the $750 million Allegiant Stadium public subsidy in 2016. Before casting her vote Tuesday, she said she had received zero emails in support of the A’s bill and heard privately from members of labor unions who had concerns about who is on the hook if the stadium plans don’t pan out.

“I am going to lie down on the side of fiscal conservatism,” she added.

SB1 did not pass with a two-thirds majority. It did not need to because it doesn’t involve new taxes. The $380 million package involves $180 million in transferable tax credits issued by the state, $120 million in Clark County-issued bonds, and a $25 million credit from the county toward development costs. The bonds would be paid using a newly established sports and entertainment district directly around the 9-acre stadium.

SB1 allows for the state to recoup up to $120 million of the transferable tax credits, if the stadium over performs. That refundable amount was increased as part of the amendments introduced Tuesday. Similarly, over performance will trigger the collection of money into a new fund that supports regional homelessness efforts.

As the Senate took their final vote on SB1, the Assembly was holding their own “informational session” on the bill. While not a bill hearing where action could be taken, it functioned in much the same way, and will likely speed up the process of moving SB1 forward in the coming days.

Some Assembly members raised concerns similar to ones their Senate counterparts did last week. Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno, D-Las Vegas, took issue with the idea that a ballpark is the best use of the Strip land, saying that any “new shiny thing” built to replace the Tropicana Casino would likely be a draw for tourists and a boon to the labor and Culinary unions that support the stadium proposal.

Concerns also rose related to Fisher’s current business practices. Assemblyman David Orentlicher, D-Las Vegas, framed the decision before the body as twofold: first deciding if baseball is a good investment, and then deciding if the A’s are.

On that second point, Orentlicher noted that the A’s currently have the lowest payroll in the MLB, which likely factors into its overall poor record. He said he’d like to see a stated commitment improving the team, but that concept was dismissed as unlikely to happen.

Lawmakers spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the A’s community benefits agreement — a list of commitments the organization makes, often related to hiring and contracting or donations and charitable involvements. The A’s have pledged in their agreement to annually $500,000 in cash or in-kind donations during the construction phase of the stadium and at least $1.5 million per year once the stadium opens.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.