Back in the 1920s, the consumption of alcohol was banned under the 18th amendment of the constitution of the United States of America. By 1933 Prohibition was repealed (under the 21st amendment) and booze was back on the menu. But, as anyone who has ever seen between-the-wars gangster movie knows, alcohol didn't disappear during Prohibition, it just moved underground.
Similarly, gambling has long been targeted by some in America as an anti-social activity, and yet has continued to find its place in society, often underground but also via a number of workarounds by the different states. The national and state rules governing gambling across the USA are baffling, complex and provide almost as many opportunities to lay wagers as it does to stop them.
The total legalization of betting in Nevada at the beginning of the Great Depression sowed the seeds that saw Las Vegas become America's gambling mecca. To America's moral majority (which is often merely a very vocal minority), Las Vegas became Sin City; a hothouse of immoral activities which were to be shunned.
Now Las Vegas has been granted the ultimate acceptance into the American mainstream: a team from the National Football League. There are 32 NFL franchises and, because they are so prestigious and yet scarce, every city worth-its-salt wants one. An NFL team is a symbol of significance and this week NFL owners voted to allow the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas.
The move is particularly harsh on Oakland which now gains the extremely dubious distinction of being the first city to have an NFL team which has left the same city twice. The Raiders began life in Oakland in 1960, but switched to Los Angeles in 1982, before returning to northern California in 1995. Now the NFL's owners have voted 31-1 to allow the Raiders to up sticks and move again, this time to the gambling capital of America. The Miami Dolphins the only franchise to object.
It is not that long since the NFL was making public statements against the dangers of gambling on the legitimacy of sport. In response to a 2009 bid to legalise sports betting in the tiny state of Delaware, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said: "Betting on the outcome of our games is something that we will always oppose vigorously."
The NFL's move to Las Vegas is just another sign that America's gambling industry is moving ever closer to official and unrestricted acceptance and access. The growth of revenues from gambling is tempting to organisations that see threats to their existing revenue streams.
The Raiders move to Vegas highlights the NFL's addiction to the enormous funds that the public purse is prepared to offer it. The new Raiders stadium will receive $750m from Nevada's public funds. Over the last decade eight new NFL stadia have been built, at a cost to the public of around $2bn. Given that the NFL is a hugely profitable organisation this legalised pilfering of public funds would be baffling were it not for the very obvious deals at the heart of it: NFL teams threaten to leave in search of a new stadium and cities and states anxious to maintain their social standing agree to foot the bill in order to keep them.
And so Oakland become the latest victim of the arms race. O-Town is also the home to Major League Baseball's Athletics, the inspiration for Moneyball and an approach to sport that meant the little teams could compete with the big money markets; an ideal which has little or no resonance nowadays.
The Raiders are about much more than Oakland. Raiders jerseys are arguably America's second most internationally recognized sports brand after the New York Yankees. Despite the Raiders' long lack of on-field success, their team logo adorns millions of hats and T-shirts across the globe.
The move from Oakland to Las Vegas may well even go unnoticed by many of their international brand-promoters, what with most merchandise merely featuring the word Raiders with no mention of the city the team comes from. Identity continues to be stripped from elite sport without reproach.
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