02/19/2004 1:00AM

Sin City looks tame by comparison

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We're only seven weeks into 2004, but already there have been several scandals involving gambling and other vices in the world of sports. Some recent headlines:

"Pete Rose admits to betting on baseball."

"NASCAR driver admits to betting on himself."

"Maurice Clarett's benefactor is a gambler."

"Breast bared in Super Bowl halftime show."

"Strippers used in college recruiting."

If you had believed the NCAA a few years ago in its push to get a college betting ban through Congress, you would think that all roads lead to Sin City. But Las Vegas's argument was always that people are gambling everywhere, and that the NCAA needed to clean up its own back yard - since friends and associates of athletes on college campuses are a much bigger threat for fixes and point-shaving scandals - before trying to pass the blame to Nevada, where sports betting is out in the open and regulated (some would say it's regulated to a fault, but that's a column for another day).

So, it's understandable that a lot of people here are taking a little pleasure in seeing controversy swirling around other areas of the country. It's kind of an "I told you so" situation.

One of the stories does have a direct Las Vegas tie, but so far the city has come out smelling like a rose (no pun intended).

In last Wednesday's USA Today, NASCAR rookie Brendan Gaughan said he bet on himself in the past and that he would bet on himself in the Daytona 500. Gaughan is a Las Vegas native and the son of Michael Gaughan and grandson of Jackie Gaughan, two casino executives.

There's no rule against NASCAR drivers betting on themselves, but a lot of writers and radio talk show hosts said there was a scandal brewing, a la Pete Rose. Even ESPN.com's Daily Quickie reported that if NASCAR wanted to be taken seriously, it would have to put in a rule about drivers betting ASAP.

It was much ado about nothing. Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications, said that he had spoken with Gaughan but that the driver wouldn't be punished. Hunter said he asked Gaughan to be sensitive to the issue. In other words: you haven't don't anything wrong, but don't flaunt it.

Gaughan's gambling activities have been no secret. In an interview published last summer on the official NASCAR.com website, Gaughan talked at length about betting.

"I even bet on myself to win every once in a while," he stated, before going on to say he bet on himself in Texas (where he was 3 for 3 in his most recent races) and at Milwaukee. "After happy hour, I felt pretty good. I called up my roommate and he said we were 11-1. I bet on myself. It was probably more for a joke and more for fun. There's nothing in the rulebook that says you can't bet on yourself to win, and there's nothing ethically wrong with betting on yourself to win. It shows confidence. If the odds are right and I feel good enough about it, I'll call my roommates and tell them to bet on me for me."

Horse racing fans have to chuckle about this a little bit. The sport has a long, storied history of owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, etc., betting on the races. Those stories, including last year when Funny Cide's owners bragged about cashing more than $100,000 here on Derby futures, are applauded.

The other recent stories do not all involve betting. But the one about Clarett's benefactor, Ohio businessman Bobby Dellimuti, does, and it received a lot more press than the Gaughan situation. Dellimuti reportedly made calls to SGB Global, an offshore sports book, during times when he was in daily contact with Clarett, the star Ohio State running back.

Clarett has not been accused of knowingly giving information to a gambler, and authorities have yet to determine if Dellimuti was betting on Ohio State games or just on football in general, as he claims. That part of the story has been pushed to the back burner with Clarett's recent court battles to become eligible for the NFL draft. But the fact remains that the gambling aspects of the story were conducted far from the legal sports book in Nevada, just like last year's trial of Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson and the March Madness pool that led to Rick Neuheisel's firing at Washington.

Although it did not involve gambling, the recent headline fodder at the University of Colorado had a Sin City connection to Las Vegas. At Colorado, scandals have ranged from at least six accusations of rape by football players (and the list appears to be growing) to accusations that high school recruits were being taken to strip clubs and off-campus parties and being offered alcohol and sex.

Las Vegas got some short-lived negative press out of the situation when Steve Lower, the owner of a striptease service, was quoted as saying that UNLV was among the schools to which he had sent girls for parties with recruits. Lower has since said he was misquoted, and UNLV officials have given a blanket denial, and nothing more to the contrary has come to light.

It's more than a little telling that Las Vegas is pretty much staying squeaky clean while all this stuff is happening around the country.

Heck, Las Vegas even tried to advertise during the Super Bowl again, which the NFL nixed because it didn't want to associate itself with the city. Then the NFL put on its own X-rated burlesque halftime show with Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and other gyrating performers that made our showgirls blush.

This is all just about enough to make us Las Vegans feel like a bunch of goody two-shoes.