01/22/2003 1:00AM

Super Bowl Sunday a local holiday


LAS VEGAS - Is Super Bowl Sunday a holiday?

To answer that, I refer you to the courtroom scene in "Miracle on 34th Street" in which the United States Postal Service delivers children's letters to Kris Kringle's sanity hearing. The judge, who was having a hard time making a decision before that point, ruled, "Since the United States Government declares this man to be Santa Claus, this court will not dispute it. Case dismissed."

Just like the judge who didn't want to rule against Santa Claus, I want to believe Super Bowl Sunday is a holiday, but I look on my calendar and it's not labeled as such. I need proof.

One of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's duties is to compile statistics on the number of tourists that venture to the city. Most of their research is done after the fact, compiling what percentage of rooms were occupied and how much was spent. The only time they estimate ahead of time is for holiday weekends.

I called Kevin Bagger, research analyst for the LVCVA, and asked him if there are any projections for this weekend?

"We're estimating there will be 271,000 visitors in town this weekend," Bagger said. "For our purposes, we consider the Super Bowl a holiday."

Since the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority declares this a holiday weekend, I will not dispute it. Case dismissed.

More tourism notes

Bagger also estimated those visitors to have a non-gambling (hotel rooms, dining, entertainment, etc.) economic impact of $95.9 million. As for the gambling side, Bagger said the LVCVA's 2001 visitor study (the 2002 visitor study will be released in the next few weeks) showed that the average tourist budgeted $607 for gambling during their stay. Based on that figure, the amount wagered in Las Vegas this weekend could approach $165 million, though Bagger says a lot of the 2001 data was compiled before Sept. 11, so the averages for the 2002 study will likely be lower.

Regardless of the downturn in the economy, that $165 million figure is probably conservative for this weekend because an above average number of high rollers will be coming in for VIP Super Bowl parties and wagering on the game, while also hitting the tables and slot machines the rest of the weekend.

Super airtime for Las Vegas?

While the NFL nixed Las Vegas's attempt to buy an ad during its Super Bowl broadcast, the city still will get its share of national exposure during the weekend, even if it's in an indirect way.

Comedians Penn and Teller are scheduled to be part of ABC's pre- and postgame coverage Sunday. However, the Rio Resort-Casino headliners are in hot water for a skit they performed last weekend at a roast of fellow shock comedian Amazing Johnathan. Penn, dressed as a Roman soldier, unveiled a shroud to reveal a near-naked Teller on a cross, while a midget dressed as an angel simulated certain unmentionable acts. The Catholic League, a 350,000-member organization based in New York that fights anti-Catholicism, has called for ABC to ban Penn and Teller from its broadcast.

The skit sounds like something Jimmy Kimmel, a Las Vegas native, might try. Kimmel - best known for his stints on the "Ben Stein Show," "The Man Show," and his prognosticating segments on "The NFL Today" - debuts his live late-night talk show on ABC after Sunday's game. Kimmel is proud of his roots. Keep an eye out for Las Vegas references and guests.

One show that is conspicuous by its absence from this year's Super Bowl festivities is "The Howard Stern Show." In each of the past two years, Stern had broadcast from the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel in the week following the Super Bowl, bringing his crazy cast of characters with him.

On his show this week, Stern said they won't be coming out this month and are looking into perhaps visiting this spring. Las Vegas gossip columnists have been speculating that the Palms, which is in direct competition for the hip demographic, may be able to lure Stern away from the Hard Rock now that Don Marrandino, former Hard Rock president, has left the property to work for Steve Wynn.

Arte Lange, a Stern sidekick, will be performing his stand-up act this Friday and Saturday at the Suncoast Showroom.

Football not only game in town

Football isn't the only sport this weekend, and neither is basketball. Horse racing fans will also occupy the race and sports books all day Friday and Saturday, and with special early posts on Super Bowl Sunday.

No one hit the progressive jackpot last week in the Super Saturday contest at the Imperial Palace. The contest is on three races from Gulfstream and three from Santa Anita, with the first contest usually between 11:30 a.m. and noon. The entry fee is $10.

First prize is $800, with $400 for second, and $200 for third. Meals or T-shirts are also awarded to the top 25 finishers, but the big prize is in the progressive pool. This week's carryover is $9,700 and the target score is 137 points. Points are based on the mutuel price (minus the cents) according to your horse's finish, plus 20 points for each win, 10 points for each place, and five for show. This Saturday's jackpot should grow to over $12,000.