So much has happened with Las Vegas professional sports in the last 18 months, and every time something big goes down, I always wonder what you’re thinking about it. I think it’s great. In order to have a world-class city you need to have three things. We were able to get the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, very significant for culture, as well as the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, so we have academic medicine, and the third piece was a major league team. It’s the reason my dear wife [current Mayor Carolyn Goodman] ran to succeed me, because I was term-limited. We tried so hard for all those years. So finally the dream is coming to fruition with the [NHL expansion team] Golden Knights and the potential to have the [Oakland] Raiders. Those three elements have begun to be true.
What was your first reaction to the announcement of the name of our hockey team? Well, I would have preferred the Las Vegas Oscars.
Was that in the running? (Laughs.) When Mr. [Bill] Foley first came to town, there was a cocktail reception up at the Palms and I got up to speak and said, “We’re finally taking the final step in having the Las Vegas Oscars coming to town,” and that was the last I heard about hockey.
What do you think about the team using “Vegas” instead of “Las Vegas?” I’m okay with it. We refer to our town as “Vegas,” the rest of the world refers to us as “Las Vegas.” I see no problem with that.
Your first trip as mayor in 1999 was to go to New York City and meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and then-NBA commissioner David Stern and plant the seeds for what is happening now. Gary Bettman was very receptive to Las Vegas then, felt it was a great town and had no problem at all as far as having a hockey team here. The only problem was that the league wasn’t contemplating expansion and none of the teams wanted to move at that time. David Stern, on the other hand, was adamant about not having an NBA franchise in the only place that was accepting wagers on sporting events. We designed a process to soften him up and I really stayed on him, even going to NBA Euro tournaments when I was chairman of the convention authority. I sat with him and ate with him and joked with him and finally we had the NBA All-Star Game here [in 2007], which was a giant step as the only city to have it with no home franchise. But he came up to City Hall and said, “Okay, you win. If you can convince the owners Vegas is an appropriate place for a team, I won’t stand in your way.” … [Current NBA commissioner] Adam Silver has always had a warm spot for us.
But from that first trip, we thought we’ve convinced at least one sport and it would be followed by others believing Las Vegas is an appropriate place for a great major league franchise. We’ll have them all before we’re through, there’s no question about that. We are the boxing capital of the world and the UFC capital of the world, and there’s no reason not to have all the major sports, five with soccer.
Do you think the Vegas Golden Knights are on the right track to connect and resonate with locals? It seems that way. At the naming event there were over 5,000 people out there at T-Mobile Arena, so that’s a strong indicator. The quick and successful sale of season tickets is a very strong indicator. I’m not a big follower of the sport so I don’t know when we can expect to win the Stanley Cup, but Las Vegas likes a winner and supports a winner. And it seems Mr. Foley is doing the right things as far as the league is concerned. It’s been a very smooth process from my perspective. As long as they can keep it interesting for fans with good players and competitive scorers, I’m sure they’ll have sellouts every game.
You also met with Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis years ago. What was that meeting like? He’s a very charming guy. My wife had a relationship with Al Davis’ parents when she was working at Caesars years ago. I sang the praises of Las Vegas and why it’s a natural for the NFL to come here although in the back of my mind, I knew the [Paul] Tagliabue mentality would cause issues. But I think I left an impression on him [Mark Davis], although that was before they had issues with their stadium up there. Once they had those issues, he came back and met with my wife.
Our current mayor, of course, lobbied for the potential Raiders stadium in Las Vegas to be built Downtown at the Cashman Center site. And she’s 100 percent right about that. I think sometimes there is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of those who make the decisions. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be saved if you go down to Cashman, because you don’t have to put in the infrastructure, you have 25,000 ready parking spaces and you have two major highways dumping right into that site. Plus, you’re going to have light rail from the university along Maryland Parkway right into Cashman, and the city is ready to just give it to them—you don’t have to pay for the land. So it makes no sense to me to build it [on or near the Strip], although I do understand why they’re doing it there.
Why are they doing it there? Because the people [casinos] on the Strip wanted it out on the Strip. But it makes no sense. Once the taxpayers understand that the room tax money [financing the stadium] may not come out of their pocket but the cost of roads and infrastructure will, they might be unhappy.
What do you think when you look back at your efforts while in office and examine how quickly major league sports projects have developed in Las Vegas? That’s how dreams come true, if you’re tenacious enough. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you’ll have success, and I’m delighted it seems to be coming all at once, and we deserve it because this is a great city. The folks who live here will be supportive of any franchise. And this completes my trifecta—culture, medicine and sports. Thank goodness it’s during my wife’s tenure that we get the third one in place.
Now you can relax. You never relax. Now I have to work on getting the Cubs to come here.