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Bill Shaikin: Why the A's 30-year commitment to Nevada has a 'Get Out of Vegas Free' card

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

The pitch to the Nevada legislature was simple: If you provide the Oakland Athletics with $380 million in public funding toward a new ballpark, the A's will agree to move to Las Vegas and stay there for at least 30 years.

The A's got the funding. However, the agreement intended to bind the A's to Las Vegas provides the team with an unusual escape clause: If ever a tax is aimed at the A's, the team can leave town without penalty.

"That is not a normal clause in these things," said Martin J. Greenberg, the founder of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School and an expert in so-called non-relocation agreements in Major League Baseball.

"The whole object of this is to keep the team at home."

This is not on the A's. The Las Vegas Stadium Authority approved such a provision in luring the Raiders and presented virtually identical contract language to the A's.

"It is a targeted tax clause that says if they are taxed in a way that is different than the way other businesses are taxed, they have the option to leave," said Erica Johnson, director of communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

 

This is not some remote hypothetical. If you go to a show in Las Vegas, you pay a 9% live entertainment tax. If you go to a game in Las Vegas — and the game is staged by a pro team based in Nevada — you do not pay that tax.

In 2021, an effort to remove that professional sports exemption was rejected. During legislative hearings on the A's funding last summer, a state senator asked A's President Dave Kaval whether the team would be willing to pay the tax, given that smaller Nevada businesses do. The Raiders and NHL Golden Knights do not.

Kaval dodged a yes or no answer, saying only that the legislation did not contemplate that. In the future, should a specific tax target the A's, their players or opposing players, the A's can move out of town.

The A's propose a 33,000-seat ballpark in Las Vegas. If the A's sell 26,000 tickets per game at last season's average major league ticket price of $37, a 9% tax could generate $7 million for Nevada per year.

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