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Las Vegas Raiders a ‘force multiplier,’ Sandoval says

On the night when star chef Wolfgang Puck was honored for his long history of charitable work, Gov. Brian Sandoval took a few minutes to talk football.

It happens when the largest city in your state lands one of the NFL’s most famous teams.

“How this all came together, first and foremost, is that Las Vegas is one of the greatest cities on the planet,” Sandoval said after honoring Puck as Philanthropist of the Year at the annual Governor’s Black Tie gala at Southern Highlands Golf Club. “When you put one of the greatest cities on the planet with one of the most iconic names in professional sports, it’s a force multiplier. Think about it: The Raiders are perfect for Las Vegas.”

Sandoval said the outlay of $750 million in public funding for the Raiders stadium in Las Vegas has a lot to do with that “force multiplier.” But the Raiders’ founding family has always had an affection for Las Vegas.

“Obviously, the $750 million has a lot to do with it. But at the same time, if you talk to (Raiders owner) Mark Davis, he’s always said his dad (original Raiders owner Al Davis) always loved Las Vegas, and it was part of the family’s legacy to come here,” Sandoval said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for the team in Oakland, but it will work out better in Las Vegas.”

Sandoval continued: “I don’t deny that it’s a big sum of money, but we’ve been able to structure it so the room tax pays for a third of (stadium costs), and I think that is fair, and it will be a win-win for everybody.”

The Raiders are expected to move to Las Vegas in time for the 2020 season, as the new stadium is finished. “When you see them start to go vertical with the stadium, and we get closer to them actually coming here and playing here, you will see momentum and excitement built toward a historic moment for Las Vegas,” Sandoval said. The team’s move is a component in what the governor says will be an evolution of the city’s schedule of major sporting events.

“I don’t want the (Vegas) Golden Knights to be forgotten in all of this. To have an NHL franchise is a really big deal,” he said. ‘This is the start. We should have a Super Bowl here. I want to be able to get the NCAA to change their minds and have a Final Four in Las Vegas, for them to realize we can have the NHL and NFL here, and how we’ve held the Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast Conference tournaments here … There is no better city in the United States to host these types of events, with the resources and properties we have.”

The topper, as the governor says, “People love to come here.” To turn a phrase, they come here, so build it.

Wolfgang sizzles

Puck was honored for his work with a host of charities across the country, including Keep Memory Alive for the Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Olympia Companies Chairman Garry Goett (whose company is developer of Southern Highlands) and Sandoval presented KMA with a $50,000 check.

From the stage, Puck remembered the early days of Spago, which opened in December 1992 and help launch the star-chef era on the Strip.

“Everybody told us we were crazy, going to Las Vegas, and when we opened up I thought maybe we are crazy,” said Puck, who opened Spago during a lull in the city’s tourism business (at least in those days). “I was so nervous, I had to get drunk before I went to sleep every night — and thank you, Larry, for all of your champagne to help me sleep.”

That line was directed at Larry Ruvo, the longtime Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada exec. (The company is now called Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits.)

Spago soon became a success, and as Puck said, “Las Vegas is one of the great restaurant cities in the country, if not the world.” He has advised many other superstar chefs to open outposts in Las Vegas.

“They should have the confidence to come here,” Puck said. “I remember talking to Sirio (Maccioni), and he wanted to open Le Cirque in Las Vegas, but was nervous. I said, ‘Open your restaurant in Las Vegas, already! You will do better in Las Vegas than New York. Today, it’s really true. I went to Le Cirque in New York, and there were three people there! … Las Vegas really is a better city than New York!” In this room, it was a great applause line.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section, and Fridays in Neon. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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