09/24/2004 12:00AM

In this case, it's all in the name


There is no argument that the name "Las Vegas" is a recognizable and valuable entity. When I named my local radio show "Race Day Las Vegas," I tried to protect that value by going through the long and expensive process of trademarking the name.

Now the city's two major newspaper companies are in a tug-of-war with a pair of Nevada gaming companies as to who owns the rights to the lasvegas.com Internet web site. A subsidiary of Stephens Media's Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper and Greenspun Media's Las Vegas Sun newspaper - for which I work as turf editor - are being sued by Las Vegas-based casino giants Caesars Entertainment and Mandalay Resort Group over who owns the Internet domain.

A pair of subsidiaries owned by Caesars and Mandalay had controlling interest in LAS Travel, formerly LasVegas.com LLC. In 2002, Stephens Media negotiated an agreement to run the web site to help book hotel rooms for the two gaming companies. According to the pact, the gaming company subsidiaries could transfer the domain to Greenspun Media Group, which also owns vegas.com, by giving notice to Stephens Media, which in turn had the right to acquire the controlling interest by matching the terms of any other pursuer. The disagreement centers on whether Stephens properly exercised the terms of the option clause.

If you think a fight over a web site is small potatoes, consider this: Millions use lasvegas.com to plan upcoming visits to Las Vegas, and Vegas.com claims to get 850,000 unique visitors per month.

It's the magic of the name.

Free speech or just smut

The Nevada Gaming Commission is well known for its stringent gaming rules, meant to protect the public from any casino hanky-panky. But some think the commission and its enforcement arm, the State Gaming Control Board, have gone a bit overboard in a case concerning the Hard Rock hotel casino.

The Hard Rock had negotiated a $300,000 settlement with the Gaming Control Board stemming from a complaint involving a controversial advertising campaign the hotel launched last year that, the board said, made light of cheating, drug use, and marital infidelity. But the commission refused to approve the settlement, leaving open the possibility of a larger fine.

In the meantime, the Hard Rock erected a billboard next to its hotel-casino property on Paradise Road. The billboard depicts a cartoon cat, two rabbits, and what appears to be a wood-chewing beaver, alongside a sign stating, "Another clean & inoffensive billboard from your friends at the Hard Rock."

The animals depicted on the billboard clearly are meant to be a sexual double entendre, and many feel the Hard Rock is thumbing its nose at the commission.

The American Civil Liberties Union has joined the Hard Rock in arguing restrictions placed by the commission on the casino's advertising campaign violates First Amendment rights to free speech. Has the Hard Rock gone too far with a risque advertising campaign or is the commission sticking its nose where it doesn't belong? Those questions were to be addressed Friday at a commission meeting.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.