02/11/2005 12:00AM

The mayor's got it right: Numbers tell the story

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You would think that Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman would be smiling from ear to ear, what with the record betting placed on Super Bowl XXXIX - or The Big Game, as it was called by casinos here so as not to offend the National Football League's sensibilities.

But his smile quickly becomes a frown when he is forced to defend his town to the NFL.

In the last three years, the relationship between Nevada sports books and the NFL has become a frayed existence fueled by the repeated attempts of the NFL to limit the state's bookmakers in celebrating the Super Bowl. From shutting down big ballroom parties to prohibiting advertising during the game itself, the NFL is flexing its copyright muscles.

In 2003 and again in 2004, the NFL rejected television advertising from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority during the Super Bowl telecasts. The LVCVA got around the boycott by purchasing local ad time in individual markets from the local affiliates, but the NFL vowed to stop that as well. The NFL did not, however, get all the affiliates, and again, the LVCVA got spots placed this year. Steve Wynn was shunned by the NFL in his attempt to advertise his new $2 billion destination resort, opening in April, and instead will buy spots on the Academy Awards telecast. Most hotel casinos called an 11th-hour audible last year after the NFL sent cease-and-desist letters warning of rights infringements if the casinos held parties in big theaters or showed the game on huge-screen televisions. This year they sent undercover investigators to make sure no one watched The Big Game in the casinos on screens bigger than 55 inches, except in race and sports books, which were allowed to show the game on the big screens.

All this has the mayor hopping mad. At Tuesday's LVCVA board meeting, Goodman again asked the authority to sue the NFL. Goodman, like a good former attorney should, came with ammunition for his case. He noted that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was "disingenuous" when asked about the league's policies regarding betting and Las Vegas. While addressing the media before the Super Bowl, Goodman said that Tagliabue couldn't answer a direct question on the subject. Instead of answering a simple question, Goodman said Tagliabue started talking about beer advertising. Goodman correctly maintains that the Las Vegas ads are more tasteful than a wardrobe malfunction or ads for erectile dysfunction.

He also knows the obvious point that the NFL is missing. The numbers tell the story, plain and simple. Las Vegas had more visitors spending more money for this year's Super Bowl than in Jacksonville, Fla., where the game was played.

And if Tagliabue thinks the masses in Las Vegas who bet the Super Bowl were wise guys and degenerates, then he'd better talk to his investigators. Most of the people who were here for the Super Bowl are the same that fill his stadiums on Sundays from coast to coast. They're the ones who came to Las Vegas to celebrate and bet a few bobs on the Super Bowl because they couldn't or wouldn't pay the outrageous cost to go to the game itself.

Goodman said it best. "Who are they kidding? The NFL wouldn't be what it is unless people were betting on the games," he said.

The numbers don't lie.

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