01/29/2004 1:00AM

NFL puts kibosh on Palms Super bash

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The Palms Resort Casino was forced to cancel its plans to show the Super Bowl on movie screens Sunday after receiving a letter Friday from the National Football League stating that showing the game on such a large screen would be in violation of copyright law.

The Palms was planning to charge customers $39.99 to watch the game at its Brenden Theatres and was going to serve food and beer. Instead, it is issuing refunds on all 650 tickets sold and is inviting its guests to watch the game on 130 plasma TV's at a smaller venue.

David Proper, legal counsel for the NFL, said that the Palms stands "in violation of Section 110 of the copyright law. The law states you can't show a copyrighted event on a screen larger than normally would be found in a household, and you can't charge admission."

He added that anyone in violation of copyright laws would be subject to a civil lawsuit from the NFL.

Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations, stated in an e-mail on Thursday: "We have a longstanding policy that you cannot create an event by using our game telecast and charging admission. It is a violation of our copyrighted telecast. It has nothing to do with Las Vegas. This is different from a restaurant, bar, or other establishment that normally has televisions and shows our games in the normal course of doing business."

A Palms spokeswoman, Vanessa Thill, said the letter from the league addressed only the size of the screen, not that the Palms was charging admission.

A Palms spokesman, Jim Hughes, said on Wednesday, "Copyright laws that the NFL are quoting allow us to show the game on TV screens up to 55 inches in diagonal, but forbids us from showing it on screens larger than that or on any commercial screen."

The Palms is apparently the only casino in Las Vegas to be contacted by the league.

NFL officials reached Thursday in Houston, site of Sunday's game, said they are just protecting their rights and will continue to send letters when they find violations.

Proper said letters were sent to "organizations throughout the country, not just Las Vegas."

"We have since been notified of other places, and more letters will be going out shortly," he said without giving specifics.

Traditionally a huge weekend

Even though this is the first time the league has gone after a specific party, there was the much-publicized story during last year's Super Bowl week in which the NFL refused the city of Las Vegas's request to advertise during the game, saying it doesn't want to promote gambling.

The weekend of the Super Bowl is Las Vegas's second-biggest tourism weekend of the year, right behind New Year's, according to Kevin Bagger, research analyst for the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority. The authority estimates that 274,000 visitors will be filling 91.7 percent of the area's 130,482 hotel rooms this weekend. But while New Year's draws more people, the Super Bowl attracts more big gamblers as opposed to the party crowd.

For years, Las Vegas has been known for its lavish Super Bowl parties, in which the casinos host thousands of guests in ballrooms and convention areas and show the game on huge screens, but this is first time the league has intervened.

Every major casino in Las Vegas, and most smaller ones, have these parties. The granddaddy of them all has long been in the Riviera's Royale Pavillion, which this year is scheduled to cost $135 with a "Super Buffet" and appearances by former NFL players Billy Kilmer, Deacon Jones, Jim Langer, and Pete Johnson.

Bringing in athletes and celebrities is another time-honored tradition in Las Vegas. Former Bears coach Mike Ditka is scheduled to make an appearance, free to the public, in the Caesars Palace sports book from 1:30-2 p.m. Sunday, while the Stardust's party in its pavilion ($50) will be hosted by former 49ers Keena Turner, Gary Plummer, and Gary Plummer, as well as former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Guests coming into town this weekend would be well-advised to confirm party plans with their hotels.

Sources at other casinos, most of whom did want to be identified, questioned why the NFL is putting its foot down now. One theory is that a recent national TV ad might have prompted the NFL into action.

If you have watched any substantial amount of programming the past two weekends on ESPN or about another dozen cable channels, you have probably seen it.

The Las Vegas Strip is lit up in all its glory with the sounds of a roaring crowd. The text flashes by on the bottom of the screen. "It's the biggest game of the year. Hundreds of thousands of fans are on the edge of their seats, living and dying with every play, going nuts on every snap. If only it was this exciting . . . at the game in Houston."

It's a pretty obvious jab. Whether it was out of spite or just a coincidence, the NFL landed a powerful counterpunch.