Column: Goodell makes it clear odds are against Las Vegas

HOUSTON (AP) ��� Roger Goodell's position on Las Vegas is evolving.

Now he can at least say the city's name without a look of disgust spreading across his face.

Actually, the look may be more of a knowing smile now that the deal to move the Oakland Raiders to Sin City is teetering precariously on the verge of collapse. The sudden withdrawal of casino operator Sheldon Adelson from the grand plan he and Raiders owner Mark Davis hatched to move the team to Las Vegas made it a lot easier for Goodell to evade, er, answer questions about it Wednesday at his annual meeting with the media.

Just why Adelson pulled out his $650 million pledge toward a new stadium depends on who you ask. The multi-billionaire who put together the proposal to lure the Raiders to a new $1.9 billion stadium indicated it was because Davis pulled a fast one by trying to negotiate stadium terms without him, but it could be that he saw both Davis and the league trying to push him to the sidelines.

It's clear that, even in a new age of semi-enlightenment toward sports betting among the major sports leagues, the NFL is still wary about doing business with the people the league has waged war with for more than a half century.

That means no ownership share for a casino owner. It apparently also means no stadium financing by anyone connected to sports betting, either.

"I don't see an ownership position in a team from a casino," Goodell said. "That is not something consistent with our policies. Not likely a stadium either."

That puts Goodell at odds with a few of the higher profile owners in the league, who have all but given their blessing to Las Vegas. Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft don't see a lot wrong with someone in the casino business being involved with a team, though there are some owners who remain rooted against anything that has to do with gambling.

Never mind that the president of the United States is a former casino operator. Or that Goodell himself grudgingly acknowledged that things are changing when it comes to the relationship of sports and gambling.

It's happening today," Goodell said. "It's sponsored by governments. It exists throughout our world. What we have always said is we need to make sure that there's a fine line between team sports gambling and the NFL. We want to protect the integrity of our game, and that's the line we will always do."

Translate that, and it means that even the best stadium deal won't be good enough for the Raiders to move to Las Vegas if there is betting on the team in the gambling city.

Translate that and it likely means Davis either needs to work harder for a new stadium in Oakland or perhaps set his sights on San Diego.

In a way, the looming collapse of the yearlong effort to move the Raiders to Las Vegas isn't terribly surprising. There were always going to be obstacles in the way, especially with Goodell seemingly intent on taking the high moral ground when it comes to sports betting.

The commissioner doesn't hold all the power in a league of 32 owners who all have their own ideas about how things should play out. But, as he showed in going up against Kraft in "Deflategate," he holds enough power to get in the minds of enough owners to block a move to Las Vegas should he choose.

Remember, this is a league so frightened by sports betting that it refused for years to even allow Las Vegas to run a commercial during the Super Bowl. A league headed by a commissioner who has made no secret of his distaste for both betting and Las Vegas.

Davis says he plans to go ahead with his plan to move the team to Las Vegas, though he'll now have to find someone with deep pockets to add to the $750 million the Nevada legislature promised for a stadium just off the glittering Strip. That makes it unlikely the move will be voted on at the owner's meeting next month as originally envisioned by the Raiders, and any delay could unravel the deal quickly.

Indeed, what looked like a done deal when Davis made a formal application to move the team last month now looks no better than a bet on a hard eight on a craps table at Adelson's Venetian casino.

The odds have shifted, and Goodell can't help but smile.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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