Oscar winning Mayor sees pro franchise for Vegas

Feb 5, 2002 7:05 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Oscar Goodman has been Las Vegas Mayor since June 1999. The Philadelphia native, a renowned defense attorney, moved here in 1964. The National Law Journal named Goodman among the 15 best trial lawyers in America. The Mayor and wife Carolyn have been married 38 years. Their four children each have advanced degrees in medicine, law and human relations. Goodman sat down for a conversation with staff writer Mark Mayer last week at City Hall.

GT: What made you want to become Mayor?

OG: In the beginning it was a lark. Just wanted to see how hard it would be to win an election. My whole way of looking at things changed. I walked the same street day after day from my office to the courthouse and everything looked fine. As soon as I became Mayor, I saw cracked streets and windows in some businesses boarded up. I wanted to make a difference here. My purpose was to revitalize the downtown area.

GT: As Mayor, what do you think has been your greatest accomplishment?

OG: The experts call me a “new urbanist,” that the 61 acres acquired on the Union Pacific site opens up the possibility to create a city within a city. I feel my greatest accomplishment is beginning the renaissance in the urban area. It’s happening and I hope all the projects I have in mind begin by the end of 2002. The new arena will be the center of activity for Las Vegas.

GT: Tell everybody what you really think of former Governor Sununu?

OG: Much of what I said about him was when I was dead sober. You should hear me when I’m drunk. He’s one of the biggest hypocritical prostitutes in American history.

GT: What do you say to people who believe Las Vegas can’t support a pro team?

OG: Minor league teams struggle. I’ve heard the experts. They claim that drawing 2,500 people in an arena seating 18,000 doesn’t allow you to enjoy yourself. I don’t think Las Vegas is any different than Boise in that there’s a yearning to have an identity. We are very sophisticated here, fast moving with lots of action. Deep down inside, we want to be part of something. That’s why the two new hockey teams will be successful.

GT: Is there a place for major league sports?

OG: Definitely. Would love to see major league baseball, the NBA. That’s my dream. I miss it. Been out of the East Coast for 38 years. I miss identifying with a team of a national stature. Closest I got was when I used to go to the UNLV games when they were the premier basketball team. Was like having a pro team here. But, until we get the support of the gamers, it’s just not going to happen. They have to buy into it and bring the high rollers. Our primary industry is gaming. They have to get behind it.

GT: Can you see a pro team here before the end of the decade?

OG: Yes. Las Vegas is losing some of its uniqueness. Sui generis is the legal term meaning a thing unto itself. Other states now have Vegas-style gaming. We have to look for new venues and I think the gamers will buy into the fact that a major league team will attract people that would not come as quickly, but would to see the team. Bulls fans would come from Chicago to see them play and have a good time. Knicks fans would come from New York. Lakers and Clippers fans would come from L.A. I think gaming is going to mature into that.

GT: What about the lobby from the NBA?

OG: Well, (Commissioner) David Stern was in town last week when I was in Washington at the Conference of Mayors. He called up to say hello. I’d like to apply the UNLV rule, now no longer in existence, to a pro team.

GT: Will the two new hockey teams be a stepping-stone to an NHL franchise?

OG: The downtown officers have all asked me where they can buy season tickets. I think they will be successful, but comparing that to the NHL is apples and oranges. I think the NHL will work, but couldn’t play in a 7,500 to 9,500-seat arena. I really don’t believe you can judge major league sports based on minor league attendance. Las Vegas would only support a winner with the NHL. With the minor league teams, people go for the sense of community. Two different ballgames.

GT: What about the Boxing Commission’s ruling on Tyson?

OG: I represented Tyson at the hearing when he bit Holyfield’s ear. I feel like I might have a conflict of interest to comment. Would I like to have seen the money come into this town, you bet your bippy. I’ll plead the fifth on that one.

GT: How do you think the nation perceives Las Vegas?

OG: It’s interesting. I went back to the Conference of Mayors to try and get them on our side as far as Yucca Mountain was concerned. I also tried to entice the Conference to hold its meeting in Las Vegas. I ran into a harder time getting them to come here than the Yucca Mountain position. They felt if their constituency saw them having a good time in Vegas, they would never get re-elected. I was adamant that they needed to come and we got the 2006 Conference. They awarded only three cities Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas. I think we grew up as a result of the hard work.

GT: What would you think of a proposed compromise deal between Yucca Mountain and the NCAA push to eliminate college sports betting?

OG: I could never see anything like that happening. Totally unacceptable. You could put those people in with Sununu. Wow, talk about a bet as opposed to a potential disaster! It would be selling Las Vegas and Nevada out. I think it’s stupid that the NCAA is even trying to ban college betting.

GT: Do you miss the old time Vegas when the mob was in control?

OG: Mob, what mob? I think you have seen a lot of movies. The new Vegas and old Vegas are different. What we lacked in the old days, which gave us a sense of mystery and excitement we made up for with having the best restaurants and retail boutique stores that we didn’t have back then. It’s a different town, so it’s a tradeoff. I loved the characters, but there wasn’t the choice of 100 restaurants to eat at.

GT: Do you feel the threat from California with the Indian tribes?

OG: That’s one of the reasons I wanted to revitalize the downtown. We have a lot of work to do to make sure our tourists get here easily and comfortably. Lots has changed since 1964. Vegas is synonymous with excellence. The service has to be what people are used to. Anything less than that, and we have a real problem.

GT: Will the city try to license its name offshore?

OG: Yes, if we are convinced that it’s full proof. Minors can’t be allowed to bet.

GT: What was your opinion of the Super Bowl?

OG: It’s very tough. I couldn’t get off the 14. If the line went to 14½, I was taking New England. If it dropped to 13½, which I didn’t think would happen, I would haven taken St. Louis. If it stayed at 14, my plan was to drink so much gin that I would see 44 players playing at one time. I do love reading the GamingToday selections. I’m a fan of the publication.

GT: How do you explain your popularity?

OG: I say what people think. That’s the difference. A lot of people are scared of their own shadow. You may as well tell it the way it is. The worst that happens to me is I go back to making a couple of million dollars a year.

GT: Will you run for a second term?

OG: Yes, as long as I am happy and the people want me.

GT: Would you go higher, like governor or senator?

OG: Can’t go any higher than the 10th floor of City Hall. I think this is higher than governor or senator. Right now, I am the man, the happiest man.