03/21/2003 1:00AM

Vegas always part of public's consciousness


Because of the war in Iraq, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has suspended a national campaign promoting the city. One reason is out of respect for our armed forces there, but also because viewer patterns will change with focus on the war.

The campaign budget is $17.2 million to run ads over a 20-month period. A weekly analysis will determine when it will resume.

If any city is equipped to handle a loss of exposure like this, it is Las Vegas. According to the Jeeves search engine, Las Vegas is the top vacation site searched for by Internet users.

The short-term loss of advertising may be offset by lots of free exposure for Las Vegas from television shows, commercials, and print ads.

A number of television series plan to base themselves out of Las Vegas.

"CSI" is a high-rated CBS television show starring William Peterson as a crime scene investigator in Las Vegas.

"Lucky" is a comedy featuring John Corbett that will premiere in April on Fox's FX Network. Corbett plays a winner of the World Series of Poker who loses his $1 million prize in one year.

Don Johnson has a pilot in production called "Casino Eye." The actor turned producer hopes NBC will pick up the show.

According to the Nevada Film Office, there are three more television pilots in the works in addition to "Casino Eye."

Even "Rugrats" and "The Simpsons" have done recent episodes where the families visit Las Vegas.

Of course, the television show that started all this was "Vegas," starring Robert Urich as private eye Dan Tanna. The show, which aired in the 1970's, opened with Tanna driving his 1957 T-Bird up to the front of the since closed Desert Inn.

Major advertising firms have flocked to Las Vegas as a backdrop for commercial shoots. The following companies are airing a television commercial now that depicts the use of their products in Las Vegas: Dockers, Dr. Scholls, Ford, Holiday Inn, Lincoln, Miller beer, MTV, Old Spice, Pontiac, Southwest Airlines, Sprint, Vegas.com, and Volkswagen.

"Las Vegas represents the classic escapist location," said Tom Nieman, vice president of Hall Gaming Group. "Mainstream advertisers realize this association with Las Vegas leads to a positive response."

"They reflect the fact Las Vegas is a hot destination," added Rob Powers of the convention and visitors authority. "It's part of the public consciousness."

"Exposure is the name of the game," said Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank Securities. "Anything that creates incremental exposure drives added visitation."

This does not take into account print ads that are far too numerous to mention. One print campaign that has generated a ton of publicity is for Pony athletic footwear and apparel. The Pony ads show adult film stars wearing Pony gear at various Las Vegas locales.

A Pony official said the message was "cutting edge," referring to the Pony products, models, and Las Vegas scene.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Show.