06/07/2002 12:00AM

Who needs Lewis-Tyson anyway?


By Sunday morning, the second game of the National Basketball Association finals will be history and the Belmont Stakes may have produced another Triple Crown winner. Another game of the Stanley Cup finals will have been decided, as well as the French Open tennis championship and more World Cup soccer matches.

In Las Vegas you could bet on them all, and watch them on giant-screen televisions in spacious race and sports books.

Then there's that little boxing match from Memphis, Tenn.

Many will be dusting the cobwebs off their eyes Sunday morning after staying up to watch Saturday night's International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council heavyweight championship fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson.

In January, when the Nevada Athletic Commission made the decision to deny Tyson a license to fight Lewis here, many in Las Vegas were surprised. How could the commission - by a vote of 4 to 1 - deny the city a marquee fight and a big payday? After all, the city was still recovering from the fallout of Sept. 11, and a Tyson-Lewis showdown in April would have rung the cash registers for the Strip resorts and boosted the desert economy.

But the commission did what it thought was right, and drew a line in the sand in a city where almost anything goes.

Although the MGM Grand lost the early April fight, it quickly filled the void with Paul McCartney concerts April 5-6. Thanks in part to the concerts, Strip casino revenues increased 2.6 percent for April, only the third increase in the last nine months. According to the state Gaming Control Board, Strip casinos won $381.5 million from gamblers in April. Frank Streshley, who is senior research analyst for the state Gaming Control Board, said the McCartney concert drew a lot of high-rollers to Las Vegas that weekend. And, McCartney did it without throwing a single punch. In or out of the ring.

While Las Vegas survived the lost bout, it will likely reap another profitable weekend from the rescheduled fight through closed circuit television. At least 18 properties, from the Strip to the suburbs, signed up to show the fight. After all, what's a high-roller to do in Memphis after one guy knocks the other guy's lights out? At least here he can gamble and party all night long.

Las Vegas has made a comeback after losing tourists in the months following the events of Sept. 11. Tourism continues to climb here, gaming stocks are riding high, and expansion plans that were put on hold on Sept. 12 are back in full swing.

Locals-market giant Coast Casinos announced a casino project to start in 2003, and Coast will soon be going public with a stock offering within a month. The housing market remains strong in the Las Vegas Valley, and the city has averted a major work stoppage with a new multiyear contract for 45,000 casino union workers.

Although the city may have lost millions of dollars from the live gate of the Lewis-Tyson fight, Las Vegas is certain to roll along with its high-rollers watching via the simulcast this weekend. As they say here, if you can't be in Las Vegas for a big event, then the next best place to be is at the event itself.

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