A six-month research report drafted by UNLV’s International Gaming Institute was a key element in convincing the National Football League to permit the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas.
It was an improbable bid to move the Raiders from Oakland, California, to Las Vegas after the NFL had made it clear in recent years that it had no interest in associating with a city built on the gaming industry.
Institute Executive Director Bo Bernhard told the story of how UNLV became involved in efforts to relocate the team Wednesday at the four-day International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking at Caesars Palace.
Bernhard said he addressed a leadership class for budding chief executives and was approached by a student with a dream.
The student was Napoleon McCallum, a gaming executive, and a former running back for the Raiders, and the dream was to someday move the team he played for to his home, Las Vegas.
McCallum asked Bernhard if he wanted to meet Mark Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders.
“And I said, ‘Sure,’ thinking, that’ll never happen,” Bernhard recalled. “This is one of a million things where students come up with all sorts of different ideas.”
Nine days later, Davis flew in on a private jet and came to the International Gaming Institute with a university police escort.
“The police sort of circled the building, because if the league knew there were any conversations between any NFL team and Las Vegas, it would have been dead on arrival and never would have gotten started,” Bernhard said.
Las Vegas misconceptions
Several misconceptions about Las Vegas were circling around the NFL, but Bernhard told Davis that he could disprove them and put league leaders’ minds at ease.
“Mark Davis said, ‘Napoleon says you have all the answers. Could you put all of that in a big, fat academic report with your university stamp on it?’ And I said, ‘Sir, I’m an academic. That I can do. I can write reports,’” Bernhard said.
Bernhard’s research included statistics about criminology and explained the types of trouble NFL players could get into in Las Vegas — and what safeguards exist to prevent that from happening. He explained Nevada’s gaming regulatory system and how there are numerous agencies that address problem gambling issues. He also included ideas from sociology professors and representatives from the Boyd School of Law to make his case.
NFL owners ultimately voted 31-1 in March 2018 to approve the team’s move to Las Vegas.
Now, the Raiders and the LVCVA are teaming to determine how visitors can be attracted to Las Vegas through the team and the under-construction $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat Las Vegas stadium.
Next up: NFL draft
Kevin Bagger, vice president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority research center who was also speaking on Wednesday’s panel, said winning approval to host next year’s NFL draft was the first of what he expects to be many collaborations between the team and the LVCVA.
“The Raiders will have their own messaging, and they’re really good at that, but we have met with them regularly on how can both sides of the equation can benefit,” Bagger said. “I care about tourists, how to get visitors here to spend their money and contribute to the economy. They obviously want to get people to come and watch football and buy merchandise and do all the things that they do. But we are working together and devising opportunities where Las Vegas can benefit.”
Bagger said hosting the NFL draft will be the first big moment involving the Las Vegas Raiders.
“The NFL draft will be done in a way that will do Vegas proud,” Bagger said. “We’re working on those details right now. We’ve got to. It’s Vegas. We have a brand we have to convey. There’s an expectation, and we’ll make sure that they exceed those expectations.”
A representative of the Raiders was expected to participate but got rescheduled to a league meeting.
About 650 people from 34 countries are attending the event, which includes a series of panel discussions, keynote addresses and presentations of scholarly research on a variety of contemporary gambling and risk-taking topics.