01/30/2004 12:00AM

NFL's late hit on casino isn't the first

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The National Football League fired its latest salvo in the cold war with Las Vegas just days before Sunday's Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers. The recipient of this muscle-flexing was the Palms hotel-casino. But they are not alone.

The popular Las Vegas hot spot received a cease-and-desist letter on Jan. 23 from the NFL, ordering the casino to stop its planned telecast of Super Bowl XXXVIII in its Brenden Theatres complex. The letter stated that such a broadcast would violate the league's copyright on the event.

The league says the size of the screens at the Palms and the casino's plan to charge admission are prohibited by the NFL's policy on mass out-of-home screenings.

The Palms, along with every major casino-hotel in Las Vegas, had planned a big Super Bowl party that included serving unlimited food and beverage and showing the big game on the big screen. The NFL says that showing the game at such an event on any set larger than 55 inches is a violation of its policy.

Most electronics stores have been running sales on TV sets larger than 55 inches, promising delivery in time for the Super Bowl. What's next, the NFL sending cease-and-desist letters to your home and insisting you show the Super Bowl on a black-and-white Watchman?

Traditionally the Super Bowl is the biggest one-event weekend in Las Vegas. Super Bowl parties abound in Las Vegas, with events ranging from food-and-drink discounts to celebrity appearances to elaborate high-roller parties.

Then there's the betting. Although the final tally isn't expected to break the record of $77,253,246 that was bet in Las Vegas on the 1998 Denver Broncos-Green Bay Packers game, plenty of cash will be pushed through the windows.

And it's that betting that must be at the root of the league's latest action. That Las Vegas doesn't downplay such legal activity, but instead celebrates betting on the game, adds fuel to the fire.

This isn't the first time the NFL has come down on Las Vegas.

Several years ago, the NFL began to charge Nevada casinos a substantial fee to allow them to show the full schedule of games in their sports books. After initially balking at paying the fee, the sports books reluctantly acceded.

Then, last year, the NFL refused to accept any advertising from Las Vegas during its Super Bowl telecast. That decision prompted Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman to entertain a lawsuit against the league, but instead he used the media to criticize the NFL and gained more publicity for the city than the actual commercials would have gotten.

This year, after the league again refused to accept ads from Las Vegas and its casinos, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority rolled out a $1.5 million advertising campaign suggesting that those coming to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl would have more fun than those at the actual game in Houston.

While the league has stated it is not singling out casinos with its recent cease-and-desist order, it is hard to figure why it would take such action now. For years Las Vegas hotel-casinos have been holding big-screen Super Bowl parties that include food and beverages in exchange for an admission charge.

The Palms canceled its sold-out party after the NFL warning and instead will show the game on more than 100 plasma televisions - all under the 55-inch limit.

And by the way, the Palms sports book hasn't "ceased and desisted" taking action on the game.

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