Editorial: Nashville is one of 20 finalists cities vying for Amazon HQ2, but Memphis could be a loser if the Tennessee city wins it. – Memphis Business Journal

The Super Bowl is the biggest gambling event of the year. (You might call it the Super Bowl of betting.)

The attention of the masses is transfixed by the climax of the NFL season, because, even if you don’t love football or the teams participating, the game is still a good excuse to eat cheese and meat, argue about which commercials are the best, make sarcastic comments about halftime acts — and wager heavily.

During watch parties and in offices across the country, scads of money will exchange hands via novelties like football squares. The vast majority of that betting will be illegal. The American Gaming Association estimates $4.76 billion will be wagered on Super Bowl 52 — but only 3 percent, or $139 million, will be legally processed through licensed sports books in Nevada.

A lot of the money will be risked over the fate of propositions such as “Will Pink be airborne at any point during the National Anthem?”

But, long after Super Bowl 52 is over, the guests have gone home and the Rotel is digested, a much bigger contest will continue. The consequences of who wins matter a lot more than any sports event.

Amazon kicked off the second half of the game it made up — the nationwide battle royale to win the company’s second American headquarters, or HQ2 — when the company winnowed down the cities in contention from 238 to 20.

Memphis was among the hundreds of players on the practice roster, but, alas, we didn’t make the cut. It came as no surprise: We don’t have enough skill-position talents or speed to make up for our lack of size, especially not compared to the 6’2”, 210-pound quarterback prototypes like Atlanta and Boston.

Since people like to bet on everything, sure enough, Vegas opened up odds on who will win HQ2. In addition to ATL and BOS, favorites on some sportsbooks include Austin, D.C. — and Nashville.

Tennessee’s capital is the second smallest of the 20 finalists (ahead of only Raleigh) and grapples with crises in housing (not enough inventory; rapid gentrification; skyrocketing prices) and transportation (traffic gridlock; insufficient public transit and many years to go before a proposed multibillion-dollar light rail system comes online, if it’s even approved).

Nevertheless, Nashville seems to have a legitimate shot at victory because it checks a lot of boxes Amazon specified in its RFQ.

Amazon’s HQ1 is located in Washington, which doesn’t have a state income tax. Of the finalist cities, only four are in states with similarly generous tax structures: Austin, Dallas, Miami and Nashville. Presumably there will be a lot of executive-level reorganization from HQ1 to HQ2, and it doesn’t seem likely that employees or recruits would be happy with a de facto pay cut of 5 or 10 percent by relocating somewhere with an income tax.

The X factor: incentives. It’s unknown what Nashville and Tennessee have put on the table for Amazon, but the biggest pile of cash made public so far is Newark, New Jersey’s $7 billion package.

If Nashville won HQ2 and the 50,000 jobs and $5 billion investment that comes with it, the impact on Memphis would be considerable, and not just because we’re taxpayers. Don’t like the economic stiff-arm we already get from Middle Tennessee? Wait until they’re protecting a ball like AMZ.

On the other hand, Memphis could benefit as a low-cost alternative to Nashville for the many businesses HQ2 will attract, and a principal the size of $5 billion isn’t careful money. Some of it would wind up in Memphis just out of inertia.

HQ2 is a big trophy. Nashville and Tennessee are taking a huge risk by trying to win it. Hopefully, Memphis won’t have to pay too much of the vig on their gamble.

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