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National Finals Rodeo officials say they’re not hitched to Florida yet

Don’t say happy trails to the National Finals Rodeo quite yet.

The chairman of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association board, which governs the popular 10-day rodeo held in Las Vegas for nearly three decades, said Monday that his board wants to make a counteroffer that would keep the NFR in Las Vegas after 2014.

The board voted unanimously to approve further negotiations immediately after it voted 6-3 to reject a 10-year deal worth $15 million per year proposed by Las Vegas Events, the nonprofit that promotes the rodeo.

Las Vegas tourism officials took the rejection as the final word, but PRCA Board Chairman Keith Martin on Monday said the board also voted unanimously to submit a counteroffer to Las Vegas Events in hopes of keeping the prized rodeo in Sin City — something Las Vegas Events apparently first learned from the Review-Journal on Monday.

“We want to stay in Las Vegas,” Martin said from his office at the San Antonio Stock Show &Rodeo, where he is executive director and chief executive. Martin was among the three PRCA board members who voted to accept the Las Vegas Events offer.

“If Las Vegas is saying it’s over, then I need to find that out. … I’m confused on that, frankly,” Martin said.

Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said he was unaware of a desire to keep negotiating.

“We didn’t know that they wanted to counter,” Christenson said Monday. “There’s not a lot of time. We’ve been negotiating for over a year and a half. It would have to be timely, in the next two weeks.”

Christenson said he believed Sunday that the PRCA was ready to quit Las Vegas, in part because of a simultaneous Sunday meeting of officials in Florida’s Osceola County to approve a memorandum of understanding offering to build a new 24,000-seat arena and offer $16 million per year in purses and administrative fees to lure the National Finals Rodeo to the Orlando area.

That belief prompted Las Vegas Events on Sunday to say it was “disappointed that the PRCA has chosen to pursue a completely speculative offer versus Las Vegas’ proven 29-year track record.”

Christenson said Sunday that his organization, funded by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, already was planning a competing world championship rodeo in Las Vegas for the two weeks in December when the NFR is held. The NFR ended its 29th year in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Major rodeo events are held in Houston and Calgary without PRCA governance.

Christenson said Martin told Las Vegas Events board member Michael Gaughan about the rejection Sunday but did not tell Gaughan of the subsequent vote to make a counteroffer. Gaughan, a longtime NFR supporter, owns South Point casino-hotel and is working with Christenson on the NFR negotiations.

Martin noted Monday that the PRCA board didn’t vote Sunday to move the Super Bowl of rodeos to Kissimmee, Fla., which is near Disney World and also home to some of the biggest rodeos east of the Mississippi River.

Martin said the PRCA board is legally obligated to consider all offers from other potential host markets, which include Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Martin said he had no contact with Christenson on Sunday, and was surprised when he read the Las Vegas Events president’s comments in the Monday Review-Journal.

“In the form of an article — that was a little bit strange,” Martin said.

Asked why Osceola County commissioners met Sunday to vote on its offer, Martin said only, “The timing — I’m not sure about.”

Martin said the next step is for PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman to draft the counteroffer to Las Vegas Events.

The 10-day NFR is a big money-maker for Las Vegas at a time of the year when business is slow along the Strip and in other hotels around Las Vegas. The rodeo generates about $60 million in annual spending.

MGM Resorts International’s hotel-casinos host thousands of NFR visitors and issued this statement Monday: “NFR has been a valuable event and partner for almost three decades. Our company and our community would hate to see them leave Las Vegas. However, should rodeo organizers continue down this path, we have the utmost confidence in the ability of Las Vegas Events and Las Vegas as a brand to attract other customers and events to fill the void.”

From 1985-2012, 1.06 million out-of-town visitors came to the NFR, generating an estimated nongaming economic impact of $1.01 billion. In 2011, 44,975 out-of-town visitors came to NFR, while 52,925 out-of-town visitors attended in 2012.

From 1985 to 2012, estimated total event attendance was 4.76 million, which includes local residents.

Contact Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow Snel on Twitter at @BicycleManSnel.

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2019 NFR comes to Las Vegas in December

The National Finals Rodeo, the season-ending championship for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, will take place from Dec. 5 to 14 at the Thomas & Mack Center.