The game that shows how the game is changing By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports September 27, 2020 at 7:34 pm Monday Night Football has been an institution now for fifty years. For football fans, it is almost sacred: few things are more important on Monday night than watching The Game, no matter the matchup. Bars across the country – in pre-pandemic times, at least – schedule all sorts of promotions and specials around MNF: drink specials, meal deals, trivia contests, you name it. For players and teams it is just as important; a game well played is often the highlight of a player’s career and of a team’s season. That was certainly true last Monday, September 21, the night the newly christened Las Vegas Raiders played the New Orleans Saints, at home, on national television. It was the Raiders’ first home game in their new Las Vegas home, the $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. There were no spectators in the stadium, due to the pandemic, but there was a huge television audience: an average of 15.5 million people watched nationally. In Las Vegas, the rating was 22.1. The game and moment will certainly be etched into the memory of all the Raiders, as well as those of the people of Las Vegas and Nevada. It was a game changer, and not because of the score or the strategies. Shutterstock The game was a watershed moment for the city and the state because it was the end of an era. Nevada, at last, was admitted to the Union. The actual event that created the opportunity for the change was the decision by the National Football League to approve the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, although there were other events that preceded the move that helped set the stage. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights began play in the fall of 2017 and shocked virtually everyone by going to the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural season. The Las Vegas Aces of the Women’s National Basketball Association moved from San Antonio and began playing in Vegas in 2018. The Las Vegas Lights, a professional soccer team, also began play in 2018. Until that year’s watershed, all professional sports more or less avoided Las Vegas. The city’s size was part of the reason. Las Vegas did not reach a million permanent residents until 1996, although the town grew quickly from there, passing 2 million in 2012 and 2.5 million in 2018. To have a major league sports franchise, a city must be able to fill a stadium or arena. Las Vegas did not really meet that criteria before 2018, although, beginning in 1997, Las Vegas has had more than 30 million tourists a year. Theoretically, it would have been easy to fill a sports stadium; after all, the city filled 150,000 hotel rooms every weekend for decades. That proposition was never tested for moral and political reasons. In the minds of the professional leagues, Nevada was seemingly unfit to house a team – or even to host a game. Professional sports looked down its noses at Nevada, Las Vegas, casino owners and gamblers in general. The NFL was apparently particularly offended, infamously refusing to let the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority air a commercial during Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 (ironically, a game that featured the then-Oakland Raiders); the league finally relented in 2010 and allowed a Vegas ad to air during the game. As late as 2017, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell disapproved of the Las Vegas move, because Sheldon Adelson would have been a part owner of the stadium. As a casino owner, Adelson was deemed unfit to be associated with the sacred game of football. The NFL’s policy was one of no advertising, and no association. It was an insult to an entire state. Nevadans were used to the insults. The national media had started to condemn Las Vegas and Nevada in the 1950s. Before the Kefauver hearings, the media found Nevada despicable because of its liberal divorce laws; in most of the country there were only three causes for divorce: cruelty, incurable mental illness, and adultery. The charges had to be proven, and the process was lengthy. Nevada granted divorces after six weeks of residency for reasons of incompatibility, and the residency and grounds requirement were easily met. Rich women flocked to Nevada, followed by reporters and cameras. state of sin was featured on the covers of national magazines. However, in the 1960s national divorce attitudes and laws began to change. Divorce was no longer a Nevada exclusive. Nevada’s bad reputation might have ended there, except then the press discovered the Las Vegas casinos, the evils of gambling, and the ever-present mob, which the whole world believed controlled everything in the state. In the nation’s eye, gambling was immoral and illegal, except in the deserts of Nevada. Don’t get me wrong: Nevadans were conflicted by casinos, gambling, and the mob, too. Our long history as a bad boy that embraced divorce and gambling left its mark on our conscience. The downsides to an economy based on gambling were apparent, the existence of organized crime figures in Las Vegas was well known, and the risk of gambling addiction could be seen; people with an addiction suffer, and their families suffer, too. A friend of mine was a casino manager in the 1980s. After his father died, his mother visited him at work daily. She also played the slot machines; she was lonely and bored. In the casino, she found friends and solace. Within a couple of years, she had lost everything her husband had left to her. Her son had been unaware of his mother’s playing. When he found out he was ashamed enough to quit his job and leave the industry entirely. It was a tragic tale, one that all Nevadans have likely felt in one way or another. We Nevadans aren’t aliens; we share the same religions, values, and political philosophies as our fellow Americans. We have always known the casino industry was not a perfect industry. But the casino industry in Nevada has done much more than harm widows. It has fueled the state’s growth and provided the jobs and taxes that are the foundation of the state’s economy. The building of Hoover Dam was the initial catalyst for the growth of Las Vegas, but the truly phenomenal growth of the city in the 20th century was due to the emergence of the Las Vegas Strip and a vibrant casino industry. With the growth of gaming and the Strip, thousands of creative, ambitious, and entrepreneurial people migrated to Las Vegas, bringing with them ideas, excitement, talents, and creativity in theater, dance, song, food, resort design, hotel management, sports handicapping, magic, botany, and more. The city proudly proclaimed itself to be the entertainment capital of the world. It might not be quite the capital, but few other cities have 150,000 hotel rooms and attract 40 million visitors a year. Las Vegas is a force is nearly every field of entertainment, except sports. That is, until recently. Now Las Vegas takes a seat at that table as well. “Hear! Hear!,” they’re chanting from the backbenches. The backbenchers are the rest of the state of Nevada. In the past, we backbenchers – those of us who live elsewhere in the state – have often resented Las Vegas’ outsized reputation and its place in the spotlight. But no longer. Not after Monday night. Last Monday’s football game was a huge moment for all Nevada. Finally, after 90 years, Nevada is no longer an outlaw state, a despicable place inhabited by degenerates. It was a long, and at times, painful nine decades. But now we have been accepted and joined the rest of country with our own football team. As everyone knows, 48 states have joined us over the last five decades with their own form of gambling. Gambling is legal and accepted everywhere, except Utah and Hawaii, where it is prohibited in any form. But their citizens don’t seem to agree, or at least a lot of them don’t, since Utah and Hawaii are major sources of visitors to Nevada’s casinos. The latest indication of the changing mores nationally is sports betting. It is now legal in some 18 states, with another 4 pending implementation and 9 more with bills under consideration. Welcome to the club, guys. There are still reasons to be concerned over some of the societal risks of gambling, of course, and the industry continues to need responsible management and regulation. But it is nice to no longer feel alone and condemned by the outdated but lingering reputation of our major industry. The game has indeed changed. Go Raiders!