LAS VEGAS — Timing is everything and Megan and Eddie Cerda timed their move to Las Vegas well. In January, they opened Chanclas Cantina, a sports bar five miles east of the Strip, and some of their first customers were members of the Los Villanos Raiders booster club. The club, which has grown from 10 to 100 members in a year, now calls the bar home.
Last Sunday, dozens of fans in the team’s signature silver-and-black jerseys packed a section of the bar to watch the Raiders fall to the Tennessee Titans, all but dashing their playoff hopes. On the walls were flags of the booster club, the team with the name of its new city and another that read “Viva Los Raiders.” The fans sat in long tables munching on snacks and drinking beers, watching a big television while Eddie Cerda led cheers when the Raiders scored or made a first down.
“It fell in our laps,” Megan said, adding that the bar generates a quarter of its weekly sales on game days. She and her husband expect business to pick up even more when the team starts playing here next season. “We’ll definitely draw more people when the Raiders come to town because they can only fit 65,000 people in the stadium and a lot of locals can’t afford tickets,” Eddie said.
As the Raiders prepare to play their last home game in Oakland this weekend, fans and businesses across this region of 2.3 million people in southern Nevada are eager to welcome their newest professional team, following the arrival of the Golden Knights of the N.H.L. and the Aces of the W.N.B.A. For years, Las Vegas was thought to be too small and too transient to support sports teams, even though boxing, mixed martial arts, and other big sporting events have drawn crowds here for decades.
But that has changed as the city has grown and its economy has become less centered on gambling with more family-oriented tourism and, increasingly, technology companies. After long shunning Sin City, the N.F.L. two years ago gave the Raiders the green light to move here from Oakland.
While Knights have been an unalloyed success, the Raiders are by far the biggest catch, not just because of the immense popularity of the N.F.L., but because the team’s bad boy image fits with the city’s reputation for no-holds-barred excess. And because the team has played in Oakland and Los Angeles, Raiders fans from across California will make the trek to see their team in Las Vegas.
Ruben Moya, a law enforcement officer from Riverside, Calif., will be among them. Last Sunday, Moya was in town for a concert and decamped at the Cerdas’ bar to watch the Raiders. He will be back, having paid $12,000 for two personal seat licenses and $3,000 for season tickets at the Raiders’ new home, Allegiant Stadium.
“I live a six-hour drive from Oakland, but it’s only a three-and-a-half hour drive to Las Vegas,” said Moya, who wore a Bo Jackson replica jersey. “I’m going to come to every home game the first season.”
The enthusiasm for the Raiders in Las Vegas, where there are about a half-dozen booster clubs, is tempered by the anger in Oakland, the latest city to lose an N.F.L. team. The Raiders and the city fought for years over how to replace the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the team’s crumbling home that opened in 1966. After the Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles and the Chargers abandoned San Diego to join them, the Raiders announced plans to head to the desert, forsaking fans who also lost the team when it left for Southern California in the 1980s.
“The overwhelming majority of people are not O.K. with the team abandoning their unbelievably loyal and passionate fans for the second time,” said Jim Zelinski, a longtime fan and former season-ticket holder. “The Oakland fans helped build the global brand of the Raiders.”
The city, too, is not O.K. with the team leaving. Last December, Oakland sued the Raiders and the N.F.L. for violating federal antitrust laws and seeks damages to cover lost revenue and money that Oakland taxpayers invested in the team.
Whatever their misgivings about forsaking another city and its fans, the N.F.L. owners voted to move two teams to Los Angeles and another in Las Vegas. While they long coveted returning to Los Angeles, the owners had to shed their doubts about locating in the country’s mecca of gambling. The arrival of the N.H.L. three seasons ago chipped away at that resistance. But some owners doubted the wisdom of leaving Northern California, a far larger and wealthier market than Las Vegas, which is heavily reliant on the tourism industry.
Ultimately, Clark County made the decision when it offered to contribute $750 million toward the cost of the Raiders’ new $2 billion home. The bonds are backed by an increase in the hotel tax, which was sold to residents as a tax on visitors. Still, critics say that another 10,000 or more out-of-town fans attending Raiders home games will not move the economic needle, especially if fans from California make daytrips to see games, for a tourism industry that attracts tens of millions of visitors a year. While the stadium will be used for concerts and other events — including, perhaps, a Super Bowl — the Raiders’ presence will center on eight regular-season home games, in a city that hosts numerous conventions and events around the year.
Raiders owner Mark Davis “got the public’s money thanks to a trunk load of unsubstantiated projections on increased tourism and room tax revenue,” said Jim Nagourney, a retired business executive for the Mets and Islanders who spoke more than a dozen times at public hearings. The team’s forecast for the percentage of out of town fans, he said, “was ginned up to create an illusion of a public benefit.”
Jeremy Aguero, an analyst working for the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, the agency created by the state to oversee the development, disputes that assessment. He expects 35 percent of fans for events in the stadium to come from outside Las Vegas, and each out-of-town fan to stay an average of 3.2 nights and spend $820 per trip. Even before the stadium’s opening, funds from the hotel tax have grown nine out of the last 10 months, which bodes well for paying off the bonds, he said.
He and others also point to the success of the Golden Knights, who have been selling out their games since they debuted in 2017. This season, the Knights are among the top five N.H.L. teams in sponsorship revenue, retail sales per ticket holder and television ratings.
Though Allegiant Stadium does not open until next July, the Raiders have started to prompt changes in the region. The N.F.L. will host the draft in Las Vegas in April, and Raiders-branded retail shops have opened. Companies like Maverick Helicopters, which flies tours over the Strip and to the Grand Canyon, expect more business from out-of-town fans, as well.
“That’s where the N.F.L. is great for us because it’s going to bring Packers fans, Patriots fans, Steelers fans,” said Bryan Kroten, the vice president of marketing of Maverick Helicopters. “Whatever it takes to get new people to Vegas.”
The Raiders are pumping money into the city of Henderson, south of Las Vegas, where the team is building its practice facility and players, coaches and team executives are buying homes. The M Resort, which is adjacent to the practice facility, has seen a jump in bookings since it became the official team hotel, and it expects more business when the Raiders arrive. The team will rent about 300 rooms on nights before home games in the hotel, which is adding a Raiders Bar & Grill and a team-themed retail shop.
“We’ll be their home away from home,” said Jeff Ferrari, advertising manager at the resort.
Local fans have different priorities. Personal seat licenses, which fans must buy in order to purchase season tickets, have strained many bank accounts in a city where the average median pay is 32nd in the country, and a healthy chunk of residents are retired or work in hotels, restaurants and other service industry jobs.
Richard McGinnis, a registered nurse and part time disc jockey who moved to Las Vegas from California 14 years ago, said he had to take out a loan to help pay for four seat licenses in the “Black Hole” fan section. “I’m a Raiders fan, not Oakland, not L.A., so I will support them.”
The team declined to say what percentage of the licenses were bought by fans from outside Las Vegas, or by casinos and hotels, who may use game tickets to entertain high-roller gamblers and other clients.
Local fans also fret about parking, traffic and tailgating. Crammed onto 62 acres astride Interstate 15, the stadium will have only 2,375 parking spots. The team is buying or leasing plots of land a half mile or more away. Shuttle buses and ride shares will close the gap, but the traditional experience of grilling your food in the parking lot, packing up your gear and walking right into the stadium will be a rarity.
“When I’m paying my hard-earned money, I want convenience,” said Betsaida Castillo, a local Raiders fan who moved from San Francisco five years ago, and who paid a $5,000 down payment for two personal seat licenses. “It’s heartbreaking because the tradition of football is tailgating. But I’ll be there.”