09/07/2006 11:00PM

When throwing money away is a smart move

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When I worked for the Sive, Young & Rubicam advertising agency in Cincinnati, we tried to make sure that the client's message rose above the clutter of everyday marketing.

I was thinking about those lessons learned this past week when I heard that tens of thousands of dollars were floating down to street level from an advertising billboard located on the Las Vegas Strip. My first reaction was that somebody did figure out a diabolically clever way to get his or her message out.

You may have heard about this strange story since it happened in Las Vegas early Wednesday morning.

In brief, Sportsbook.com, an Internet wagering site, rented an outdoor billboard on the Strip across the street from the Stardust. They built a clear Plexiglas case on the billboard and filled it with $100,000 in $1 bills. The website then offered a wager at 6-1 odds that the money would be stolen. Well, it was - almost.

There was supposed to be 24-hour security guarding the billboard. At 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, a caller to the 911 emergency line said money was "falling out of the sky." When Las Vegas Metro police arrived, thousands of $1 bills were cascading down to the ground. Allegedly, thieves had broken into the case and dislodged about $30,000.

The authorities are investigating this as a robbery. But they have not ruled out that it may be an inside job. Or, more likely, a bizarre publicity stunt. The Internet site is vehemently denying the allegations that this was a setup. Personally, it's hard to ignore the obvious.

I don't see the cost of the advertising as that expensive. It starts with $100,000 cash - pocket change for the company - which supposedly will be returned after the promotion ends. It also includes renting a billboard, paying for around-the-clock security and buying insurance for the money. The limited costs have been far exceeded in value by the PR and media buzz generated by the oddball incident.

Newspapers nationwide are running stories. TV and radio stations are reporting on it. People are talking about the "money raining down in Las Vegas."

There seemingly are thousands of Internet betting sites. To the layman, they all look, sound, and feel alike. What better way to rise above the clutter than do something so outrageous that even longtime Las Vegans were left shaking their heads?

And for those of us who like to make a bet once in awhile, there was a brand new bad beat story created. The folks who bet at 6-1 odds that the cash would be stolen still do not collect. The website rules clearly state that all $100,000 must have been stolen for the bet to win.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."