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Howard Stutz

NFL Championship Game XL: Don't Call Me Super

6 February 2006

Super Bowl XL weekend has arrived -- but you wouldn't know it walking in and out of Las Vegas resorts.

Other than the game's current point spread, Strip marquees have nary a mention of the matchup.

Inside casinos, neither a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel nor a Seattle Seahawks flag can be found. Instead, decorations from the recent Chinese New Year celebration are still evident.

If casinos are having parties surrounding Super Bowl activities, they'll vaguely reference "The Big Game."

Lawsuit threats by the NFL over trademark infringements on the Super Bowl name and team logos have all but quashed the massive parties and special events once popular at so many Las Vegas casinos.

The NFL didn't want casinos charging guests to watch the game while the league continued to shy away from an association with anything gambling-related.

"It's a busy weekend for us, nothing out of the ordinary," said Wynn Las Vegas spokesman Brandon Cox. "We'll do our usual song and dance."

Still, many resorts will have small-scale private parties, and casino customers will gather in sports books to watch the Steelers and Seahawks play for the NFL championship.

An estimated 285,000 visitors will pack Las Vegas this weekend, dropping $102.4 million on nongaming goods and services.

"The Super Bowl is still a major weekend in Las Vegas, bringing a tremendous melting pot of customers," said Green Valley Ranch Resort General Manager Joe Hasson. "I can't even fathom a guess as to how many television screens throughout our property will be turned to the game. But we just can't call it the Super Bowl."

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates almost 95 percent of all area hotel rooms will be occupied this weekend, which is considered as busy as most holiday weekends by percentage points. The opportunities to wager legally on the game and celebrate with like-minded fans are primary reasons visitors flock to Las Vegas for the game.

"The activities surrounding Super Bowl weekend reinforces the strong reasons to visit Las Vegas," said Kevin Bagger, the authority's research director.

Casinos still have football-related activities, offering various giveaways with wagers and special events featuring past and present NFL stars. At Casino Monte Lago at Lake Las Vegas, an autograph session with members of the 1967 Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers will be held today; advertisements, however, fail to mention the words, "Super Bowl."

At the newly opened Hooters Hotel, several football-related activities will take place today, and guests could have an opportunity to meet NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, who co-owns Dan Marino's Fine Food and Spirits, the casino's upscale restaurant.

Ed Droste, one of the original founders of the Hooters restaurant chain, said planning the casino's opening in time for Super Bowl weekend seemed to be a perfect match.

"Detroit's pretty cold and we're warm weather people," Droste said. "So we just figured our friends would come out to Las Vegas and we could watch the Super Bowl here."

Last year's 24-21 win by New England over Philadelphia accounted for a record $90.8 million being legally bet on the game in Nevada. It's unclear if wagers on the Steelers-Seahawks contest will match or even surpass the amount dropped on Super Bowl XXXIX, said Gaming Control Board Senior Research Analyst Frank Streshley.

Betting activity could be helped by the teams involved in the game, Streshley said; Pittsburgh has a strong and loyal following while Seattle is considered a West Coast team. Wagering activity also transcends the sports book, reaching blackjack tables and slot machines.

"It's across the board. People coming in to bet on the Super Bowl also wager on other games," Streshley said.

Gaming analysts said the weekend won't make or break a casino company's quarterly earnings, but can reasonably add to the bottom line.

"Super Bowl is a very strong weekend for the Strip as it brings a good profile of gamblers into town for an extended weekend," said John Mulkey of Wachovia Securities.