LAS VEGAS (AP) Sometimes the bumbling bozos in charge of the NFL just can’t help themselves.
Or maybe they’ve been so afraid of Las Vegas for so long that they automatically start hyperventilating every time a player buys a plane ticket to this gambling town.
Blame it on their outdated and misguided beliefs about gambling and casinos – all of which have long been dismissed by other sports leagues. Blame it on their sheer paranoia that somehow their golden goose will go away if players happen to walk by a blackjack table.
But, really, doesn’t the league realize its owners just voted 31-1 to allow the Oakland Raiders to move here?
Apparently not, judging from the reaction of league officials to a trip some players took to Sin City over the weekend. Their crime? Taking part in the Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship at the MGM Grand hotel-casino.
”We are looking into it, and we became aware of it as it was underway,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. ”A longstanding policy prohibits any NFL personnel from promotional appearances at a casino.”
Maybe the owners should have thought about doing away with that policy at the same time they met to approve Las Vegas as the new home of the Raiders. It wasn’t on the agenda, though, probably because it didn’t come with a $750 million gift attached the way the new Las Vegas stadium did.
People here have long been used to the NFL being hypocritical when it comes to gambling. But they might have thought the issue was settled when owners agreed to accept $750 million and Commissioner Roger Goodell said there were no plans to ask casinos to take the Raiders off the betting board when they come to town.
Yet here the league is, still fretting about players promoting casinos as if their presence at the MGM Grand somehow undermines the integrity of the NFL.
It’s the same head-in-the-sand mentality shared by the NCAA that ignores the reality of the times. In the NCAA’s case, it still has a prohibition on Las Vegas hosting NCAA events, which will prevent the city from being considered when the Board of Governors meets later this month to hand out championship sites.
Not only can’t the city bid for a regional or Final Four, but also the men’s ice hockey and wrestling championships it was hoping to land.
That’s despite Las Vegas being host to four conference basketball tournaments this year – including the Pac-12 tourney that sold out the new arena on the Vegas Strip. Before it was moved this year from the MGM Grand, college players never had to leave the hotel-casino to play.
Fortunately for Las Vegas, other sports and leagues do get it. They gladly come to a town where fans will happily follow.
The ice was broken when the NHL decided Las Vegas would make a fine town for one of its franchises, now the Vegas Golden Knights. Then Mark Davis decided the city would be the perfect home for the Raiders, and every owner but one agreed.
And why not? Why should there be a stigma about a town based on beliefs from 50 years ago?
The NBA doesn’t think there is. The league held an All-Star Game here and has a wildly successful summer league. Commissioner Adam Silver has called for legalized sports betting across the country, and there is a push behind the scenes to bring an NBA team to town.
NASCAR has not one but two Cup Series races scheduled in Las Vegas next year. The best rodeo cowboys in the world compete in their World Series every December, while the PGA has held tournaments here since the mobsters ran the town in the 1950s.
The biggest fights are almost always on the Las Vegas Strip, and the new T-Mobile arena is now the official home of the UFC. At a time when sports and entertainment bisect, Las Vegas has been the perfect host for everything from rugby championships to the World Series of Poker.
None of them has any worries about the reputation of Las Vegas. None believes ties between casino interests and teams are a problem.
None worries about their players spending nights in Strip hotels or walking through casinos like the other 42 million people who visit Las Vegas every year.
That the NFL does is laughable. But the real joke is on the league as it tries fitfully to move forward in a world where the old rules no longer apply.
Times have changed. Casinos aren’t the threats the NFL always made them out to be, and to argue otherwise would be nonsense.
Luckily, the Raiders won’t be here for three more years. It takes time to build a new palace for the team, even with taxpayers footing half the tab.
That leaves plenty of time for an attitude adjustment in league headquarters.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg