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VICTOR JOECKS: MSG Sphere shows why Oakland A’s shouldn’t get a taxpayer subsidy

The Oakland A’s deserve to strike out in their attempt to get handouts from Nevada taxpayers.

This month, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Athletics owner John Fisher is now looking to move the team to Las Vegas. Negotiations between the team and the city of Oakland have hit an impasse over money concerns and affordable housing requirements.

It’s possible a last-minute deal is reached there, but that looks increasingly unlikely. The A’s are now considering three stadium locations on and near the Strip. The ballpark here would cost $1 billion, potentially seating around 35,000 people.

There are many reasons to believe a Major League Baseball team would be do well here. Start with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights and the Las Vegas Raiders. Las Vegas isn’t a huge market, but it’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Sports fans travel. Even if they come to cheer on the opposing team, their attendance would still boost the A’s bottom line. The A’s averaged fewer than 10,000 fans per home game last year.

But the A’s don’t just want a welcome mat. They want a handout, per previous reporting. They’ve hired a team of lobbyists to roam the legislative halls in Carson City. Even team President David Kaval is registered.

It’s not clear precisely what the team wants. The Raiders received a $750 million subsidy, funded by an increase in the hotel room tax. That accounted for about 40 percent of the cost of the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium. If the A’s ask for something similar, they would be looking for around $400 million.

Gov. Joe Lombardo has been sending two competing messages. The first is that he doesn’t support raising taxes to attract the A’s or any professional team here. That’s good. The second is that the A’s might qualify for existing tax incentive programs. Those programs could abate or reduce the sales tax, the modified business tax and personal property taxes owed by the team.

The team’s vast lobbying contingent suggests the A’s want even more.

Some might argue that taxpayers would be making a good investment. A ballpark will boost tourism. Because many fans will be from out of town, they’ll bring in new tax dollars. Clark County and Nevada will end up with more tax revenue than they would have had otherwise. But the record of such lofty projections isn’t great.

What is certain is that there are companies willing to invest their own money into major projects. Just look at the MSG Sphere, which is set to open this fall. It cost $2.2 billion, and its owners didn’t demand special handouts. MGM built T-Mobile Arena without asking for public money.

That’s how it should be. The government’s job isn’t to grow the economy. It’s to ensure property rights and to provide public safety and infrastructure. Doing those things well allows entrepreneurs and companies to grow their businesses, which grows the economy.

In the free market, investment entails risk and reward. But subsidies change the equation. Taxpayers bear the financial risk while private companies reap the direct financial rewards.

Aside from the team owner raking in the cash, those who benefit the most are the politicians who give away the money. They get to stand in front of cameras and brag about what they brought to Nevada.

Being applauded for spending other people’s money is a powerful temptation. Nevada taxpayers should hope Lombardo and legislators can resist the siren song of subsidies. Tell the A’s that they’re welcome to play ball in Las Vegas — with their own money.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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