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Mark Davis' Las Vegas aspirations for Raiders remain in limbo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis arrived at the Spring League Meeting here with his franchise's future still in limbo, on a peripatetic quest for a permanent home but as the subject of the most intriguing speculation -- and litmus test -- in the NFL.

"I haven't heard no, let's put it that way," Davis said.

Davis might never hear an official no from his fellow owners about Las Vegas, whose dalliance with Davis is now a full-blown courtship. Davis reiterated Tuesday that he has made a commitment to Las Vegas -- that this is not rooting around for leverage -- and if city and Nevada officials, and, critically, moneyed businessmen, can come up with a suitable stadium proposal, he will move the Raiders. Davis is aware that Oakland fans get upset when the Raiders ponder joining the Rams in Los Angeles, and Southern Californians get upset with Northern California.

"It seems like a neutral site," Davis said of Las Vegas. "That could unite Raider Nation and not divide it. It's not giving up on something else. I would like to give somebody the opportunity to get something done."

But there was a sense among owners here that giving up on Oakland coming up with a plan that would keep the Raiders -- as much as Davis might still prefer that in his heart of hearts -- might be inevitable. In conversations with several owners, they expressed concern that there has been no meaningful progress after years of trying to secure a stadium solution in Oakland, and that the Raiders might not remain competitive if they continue to operate in the league's worst stadium situation with no end in sight.

The biggest eye-opener of this meeting, though, is that the traditional resistance to placing a team in Las Vegas -- because of fears to its proximity of gambling -- seems to be ebbing. One owner said he remains concerned and would prefer the Raiders go elsewhere, but he also acknowledged that as time keeps ticking away, Oakland seems less likely to save the Raiders.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, one of the NFL's most influential owners, believes that appropriate safeguards could be put in place to alleviate the risk that gambling might present to the game. And he noted how popular road trips to Las Vegas would be for the Raiders' opponents.

"It's a very viable option," Kraft said of Las Vegas. "The internet, what's going on in today's world, is so much different than when I came in 20-odd years ago."

It is worth remembering, though, that any anticipation of a move is wildly premature. The Raiders have a one-year lease in Oakland with two one-year options to follow. And while the Raiders are currently conducting market surveys that could determine what the thirst for season tickets and luxury suites would be, the NFL would have to grapple with the idea of allowing a team to leave the booming region of Northern California for a relatively small market with a Las Vegas population of fewer than 600,000.

"We're not looking to make this something where fans are going to fly in every week for the games," Davis said. "To fly down for 10 games a year might not be a thing that would happen for a lot of people. We want to have a local fan base, and that's very important for us, and I think that's something Las Vegas would like to have, as well."

Owners have already given approval for Oakland to relocate, but that was for a move to Los Angeles if the Chargers do not choose by January to join the Rams there. Much will hinge on the November referendum that could decide the fate of the Chargers' hopes of getting a stadium built in San Diego. If San Diego gets a stadium there -- which the league very much wants -- would the NFL then believe that three teams in Southern California is too many, and then come to view Las Vegas as a more favorable market? And nothing will happen if Las Vegas cannot come up with the considerable amount of money -- perhaps $750 million -- that it would have to contribute toward building a stadium.

For some owners, the lure of Las Vegas is already strong enough to endorse a potential move if a deal is cobbled together.

"I just think that obviously Las Vegas is a very attractive place," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "One of our nation's real jewels. It's an asset. It's unique. It's American. All of that, the NFL aspires to be associated with. It far overshadows the issue with gambling."

Maybe it ultimately will. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he spoke with Oakland's mayor late Monday night to discuss whether there are proposals the city can identify that would keep the Raiders there. As part of its approval for the Rams to move to Los Angeles, the league pledged several hundred million dollars to help the Raiders build a stadium in Oakland.

"We believe in that market," Goodell said. "I know Mark Davis does. But there has to be a solution that's developed. It's not just on us. There has got to be a cooperative agreement to try to find that solution. It's been a long time coming. This isn't something that started 12 months ago."

And 12 months from now, Davis might still not have heard no.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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