Some of you may know that I'm a big advocate of baseball in Vegas, but I'm also a big advocate of cities, states, and taxpayers not paying for a ballpark. I'm caught in the middle on this issue, but apparently the city of Vegas isn't. There's a great deal of rumbling going on in Vegas about how the city will pay for a Bank One Ballpark - style retractable dome mallpark on a site known as the "railyard."
There are three major problems facing any Vegas baseball organization:
1. Gambling - using the "UNLV rule" appears to appease the Lords of Baseball. The major casinos agree not to take action on games involving a Vegas team, home or away. This isn't a real problem since baseball is a small portion of a sports book's action, especially when it is only 1/15th of the possible games. Getting MGM Mirage and Bally's to agree to the rule appears to have been agreed to in principle and once the big boys sign on, the smaller players will fall in line. Also expect MLB to adopt Arena Football's rule that the presence of a player in a casino is considered gambling. Players could go to shows, restaurants, and other facilities inside the hotels, but could not be on the floor of the casinos. Good rule but very tough to enforce.
2. Stadium - As I said before, the location is set and the city government and big casino companies appear to be on board. Once that's done, it's an easy roll, so to speak, for baseball to move in. I'm not sure what inflation, location, etc would do to the difference in the BOB and a similar park in Vegas, but the city and state have shown no problem dropping some nasty taxes on tourists. Head to Vegas and the room might cost $129 (if you're paying ... but that's a whole other column for someday soon) and the tax could hit you for another thirty or forty a day. Nevada has no income tax, making one popular source of tax money impossible, but hotel or restaurant taxes would be more than sufficient. The question is more what does Vegas as a city have to give up? Clark County is growing by leaps and bounds, taxing infrastructure, schools, and water supply. If the tax money is new and sufficient, that's one thing, but that's for the Mayor to determine and sell to his constituents. I'd like to see Steve Stone turn into Peter Magowan, but that's not going to happen. Ballparks can't be as good as everyone says or owners would go right ahead and do it themselves. Many owners - Reinsdorf, Jacobs, Pohlad, even Selig - have made or increased their fortunes in real estate. While I'll criticize owners, I've never accused them of being stupid or poor.
3. Getting a team - Adding Steve Stone to the group - or rather, publicly acknowledging his participation - is brilliant strategy. The Marlins and Red Sox were both sold at below market rates to friends of Bud. If the Expos are sold to the Stone group, Bud would go three for the last three. There's no use arguing that Montreal is a better market; Bud's salted the earth there and as shown in his idiotic call from a Montreal DJ, shows no interest in trying to rebuild baseball in Quebec. With San Juan, Portland, and DC falling short of Bud's insane expectations, the next best thing is opening a growing new market while helping his friends.
The Vegas group is working hard behind the scenes, but are dealing with some deadlines and timeframes that need to be addressed in order to make it happen. 2004 is almost out of the question, but 2005 is also a tough deadline. A new ballpark would be impossible to complete in time and using Cashman Field, the current Triple-A ballpark, isn't a good solution (too small and it's insanely hot in the summer.) There's no secondary stadium a la Mile High or the LA Coliseum, so a full season in Monterrey might be an option, as would a 2005 Farewell Tour of Montreal, if they choose to deal with crowd sizes more in line with Kannapolis or Boise than a real MLB city.
To pull this off, things will need to happen quickly ... but we might never know until Bud almost literally pulls the trigger on this. With their move on Pete Rose outted eariler this year, fixing the Expos 'problem' could be next on Bud's list of things to screw up.
I like the idea of baseball in Vegas. I think it could work if done right. This is, however, beginning to look like the right thing happening for the wrong reasons. I'll probably still like baseball in Vegas when it happens, but like many things in baseball, I won't feel good about it.