Bet on it: Look what’s happening in Vegas

There was a time when sports leagues wanted nothing to do with the city. Now it will host the Super Bowl.

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Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, the home of the Raiders, will host Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024. 

Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, the home of the Raiders, will host Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024.

David Becker/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — What would one of this city’s pillars have thought about one of the world’s marquee sporting events, the Super Bowl, being staged here?

“He’d think, ‘Great for the town.’ I think it’ll be great for the town, too,” South Point owner Michael Gaughan says about his late father, Jackie.

When Jackie Gaughan left Omaha, Nebraska, for Las Vegas in 1950 and bought a stake in the Flamingo, the Vegas population was 25,000. Today, about 3 million people reside in the valley.

“But my dad . . . had I told him, before he died, that the Super Bowl would be here in the 2020s, he would have laughed at me.”

At 93, the Gaughan patriarch died in 2014. Michael, who turns 80 in March, contributed to certain dominoes falling this way when, at his Orleans, he let lieutenant Steve Stallworth orchestrate history.

At the Orleans Arena on Nov. 25, 2006,

No. 10 Kansas defeated No. 1 Florida 82-80 in overtime of the first college basketball game staged on grounds directly linked to a Vegas casino.

Michael Gaughan attended the first Super Bowl, between Green Bay and Kansas City, at the L.A. Coliseum in 1967, as fellow Vegas mogul Kirk Kerkorian’s guest.

“My dad and I flew there with Kirk on his new airplane,” Michael says.

Next year, he’ll opt for the comforts of his own home over Allegiant Stadium.

“It’ll be a zoo over there, but it’s going to be big for the city,” he said. “Las Vegas is becoming a major sports center. It’s already a major entertainment center. Now it’s a major sports center. Everybody wants to come here.”

DESTINATION VEGAS

Stallworth’s assist has led to Vegas playing annual host to five conference basketball tournaments.

T-Mobile Arena will stage the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional in four weeks, the prelude to the Final Four at Allegiant in 2028, and it will house the NCAA’s Frozen Four in 2026.

Formula One will run the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November. F1 races at Caesars Palace in 1981 and ’82 didn’t produce casino windfalls, but its executives have already bumped that three-year agreement to 10 years.

The Oakland A’s have Vegas in their relocation crosshairs.

“Bananas,” Stallworth says. “Absolutely bananas.”

At UNLV, he backed up quarterback Randall Cunningham and guided the Rebels to a home win over Wisconsin in 1986. Not once during those salad days did Stallworth dream of a Super Bowl landing in his backyard.

“Never, brother. Just crazy,” he said. “Think about this: When I got to the Thomas & Mack Center [in administration] in 1990, we were the only arena. That wasn’t that long ago.”

Stallworth now operates the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center for Michael Gaughan, and the beehive of sporting activity in this onetime Forbidden City amazes him.

Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Orleans and South Point all have arenas. T-Mobile was built for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, whose minor-league team in Henderson calls the Dollar Loan Center home.

U2 opens the funky MSG Sphere this fall.

In his South Point office, Stallworth recently entertained Oak View Group president Marc Badain, who revealed plans for his entity’s new arena at Blue Diamond and Las Vegas Boulevard South.

“Freakin’ amazing,” Stallworth says.

Stallworth, Raiders vice president Adam Feldman and Cirque de Soleil president Eric Grilly all co-chair the Super Bowl Event Operations subcommittee, one of nearly a dozen Super Bowl Host Committee tentacles.

The trio’s first order of business, at a March 9 meeting, will be designating a display site for the Vegas Super Ball, a 13-foot-long, 1,200-pound football that commemorates Super Bowl LVIII.

VERBOTEN NO LONGER

Like Stallworth, Mike Villa is a UNLV graduate and longtime Raiders supporter. So they were keen for the franchise to move here in 2020 and Allegiant being built for it.

A 43-year-old realtor, Villa was weaned on coach Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV hoops. He and fellow second-graders regularly sang “Runnin’ Rebel Fever” in their Myrtle Tate Elementary School classroom.

That 1990 national championship is indelible.

“Only 400,000 people lived here,” Villa says. “It was all about community.”

He laughs at the irony of the NCAA now doing official business in Vegas, a tale that requires a thick tome.

Moreover, not so long ago, the NFL wouldn’t allow Vegas ads to appear on its precious Super Bowl telecast. Caesars, whose sportsbooks line half of the Strip, now lying in bed with that league is another delicious twist.

Now that sports wagering is legal in two-thirds of the country, Vegas no longer is a curse word?

Behind the scenes, several sources said the Super Bowl needs Vegas far more than Vegas needs it. That, in the future, Vegas will not fork over $60 million in hosting fees.

That the glowing feedback NFL owners will receive next year will convince them — even minus those extortion fees, my words — to return to Vegas more frequently than any other city.

(Picture Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, in Lake Tahoe in “Godfather II,” telling Sen. Pat Geary to post Corleone’s gaming-license fee himself. Vegas is Corleone; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is Geary.)

Villa disagrees with none of that. UNLV hoops and the Raiders have jaded him. However, he will relish Feb. 11, 2024:

“A natural fit. We are the entertainment capital of the world, and the NFL is the spectacle, the Super Bowl a global event. It’s all positive. And we deserve our turn.”

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