“They’re talking about 20,000 people coming into town on weekends to see the Raiders play. I think they’re getting more interest from out of town than in town.” — Michael Gaughan, owner of the South Point Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.
Sports columnist Vinny Bonsignore had a great piece in last Sunday’s paper about the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas in 2020 and team owner Mark Davis saying a good portion of the season ticket deposits so far are coming from Los Angeles — 280 miles away.
That’s a 41/2 hour drive one way for a home game. You want to talk about fan loyalty?
If you’re too young to remember, the Raiders used to live here from 1982 until 1994, when they dumped us to move back to Oakland. OAKLAND! Who gets dumped for Oakland? We did.
Here’s the real kicker, though. Turns out we still carry a torch for the heels. We’d take them back in a heartbeat, if we could. Sales of Darth Vader masks, spiked dog collars, shrunken heads, and silver and black grease paint took a nosedive after they left.
We had a shot at getting them back a couple of years ago, but the NFL and big money guys couldn’t see eye to eye on a stadium site and who would pick up the bill, so instead we got a couple of also-rans that some Vegas odds makers are putting at 150-1 (Rams) and 75-1 (Chargers) to win the Super Bowl this season.
I wouldn’t be counting on any victory parades downtown soon, except for the Dodgers. The Raiders, who should be playing here, are 12-1 to win the Super Bowl. I like those odds a whole lot better.
I drove out to Las Vegas recently to visit my money, as Dean Martin used to say, and have a talk with the smartest businessman/gambler in town — Michael Gaughan, who knows a thing or two about successful franchises.
If you fly into Las Vegas, the first place you can lose your money is at one of the 1,600 slot machines at McCarran Airport. Gaughan owns them all, taking a sweet 13.5 per cent of the action off the top. The airport budget gets the rest.
If you drive to Vegas from L.A., the first casino you see a few miles before The Strip is South Point, one of the largest, independently owned hotel casinos in town. Gaughan owns that, too.
His father, Jackie Gaughan, was a legal bookmaker at horse racing tracks around Omaha, Neb., before moving his family to Las Vegas in the early 1950s.
He wound up buying the El Cortez, a downtown gambling joint once owned by a couple of choirboys named Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. The bookmaker’s kid took to casinos like Donald Trump took to golf courses. Buy one, play it for a few years, and sell it at a nice profit.
In 2004, Gaughan sold his stable of downtown casinos to Boyd Gaming for a nice price — $1.3 billion. A couple of years later he bought back the orphan out on highway — South Point — for a song (around half a million) so he’d have a place to hang out with his pals.
No one knows Vegas better than Michael Gaughan.
“Yeah, people are excited about getting the Raiders, but this town can be very hard on sports teams because there are so many other things to do,” he said, relaxing in his ground floor office within smiling distance of music to his ears — slot machines and gaming tables in action.
“I didn’t think we’d get a lot of out-of-town people for the games, but it looks like they’re coming, especially from L.A. You have some rabid Raider fans there. They’re talking about 20,000 people coming into town on weekends to see the Raiders play. I think they’re getting more interest from out of town than in town.
“Hard to believe, but what do I know? I thought they’d never take the handle off slot machines.”
Gaughan’s not worried about the elephant in the room on this deal — dropping a pro football team into the middle of a den of iniquity. Gambling has always been the third rail in college and pro sports.
You don’t live in a town filled with bookies, gamblers and people constantly looking for an edge and not worry some of them might try to game the game going on down the street.
Will the NFL allow local sports books to take bets on Raider home games? Is the pope Catholic?
“I don’t think the NFL is going to get involved on the sports betting angle at all,” Gaughan said. “In all the meetings, we never had anybody (from the NFL) say anything about not allowing betting on the Raiders. It wasn’t brought up.
“The NFL sees Las Vegas as a good market, and they’re not going to mess with a good thing,” he said.
Probably not, but I thought L.A. was a better market, a better thing for the NFL and Raiders, and everybody messed with it, except the fans.
And now, three years before the first kickoff, they’re sending in their season ticket deposits to travel 280 miles for a home game. Four-and-a-half hours by car to cheer on the team that dumped them more than two decades ago.
You want to talk about fan loyalty?
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.