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Gaming Guru

Jeff German

Columnist: Las Vegas, NFL Need Timeout

3 February 2004

LAS VEGAS --When I first heard that the NFL forced some casinos to cancel their big-screen Super Bowl parties because of possible copyright infringements, I thought those stuffy hypocrites at professional football's headquarters in New York were at it again.

Those arrogant you-know-whats.

But now I believe this is something Las Vegas tourism industry officials brought on themselves by taking the NFL to the mat.

First, let's get something straight. A few party cancellations may have caused some inconveniences, but they did not stop Las Vegas from having another stellar Super Bowl celebration. Some 274,000 people packed the town and spent the usual tens of millions of dollars betting on the game and partying before and afterwards.

So Las Vegas wasn't hurt by the Big Big-Screen Snub.

The NFL, though it looked foolish, wasn't hurt, either. It ended up putting on one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever. And that includes the halftime exposure of Janet Jackson's right breast.

What we have here is the escalation of a war the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority started with the NFL a year ago.

Knowing the NFL has a ridiculous policy of prohibiting gambling-related ads during the Super Bowl, the LVCVA asked pro football to allow it to run one of its edgy "Vegas Stories" commercials during the championship game.

The LVCVA was counting on a crush of national publicity after the ads were rejected to launch the "Vegas Stories" campaign, which basically markets Las Vegas as Sin City. And publicity is exactly what Las Vegas got. Tourism officials later boasted the city received an estimated $9 million in free advertising over the manufactured controversy. The joke was on the NFL.

This year the LVCVA jumped in the NFL's face again when, two weeks before the Super Bowl, it began running network ads suggesting Las Vegas would be a more exciting place to watch the Super Bowl than Houston, the actual site of the game.

The truthfulness of the ads surely angered the NFL, which decided it was time to crack down on Super Bowl parties here, thus creating another well-publicized controversy.

The LVCVA then retaliated by circumventing the network ban on Las Vegas commercials. It bought Super Bowl advertising without the NFL's knowledge in five major local markets, including New York and Los Angeles. R & R Partners President Billy Vassiliadis, the man behind the aggressive strategy, couldn't resist giving a newspaper interview Sunday, bragging about the end run on the NFL.

On Monday, without breaking into a laugh, Vassiliadis insisted that tourism officials weren't intentionally provoking professional football, but merely were looking out for the city's own marketing interests.

"There's nothing that we can do, no amount of advertising we can spend, to upstage the Super Bowl," he said.

And the NFL will never be able to pull every big screen from the Strip during the game or stop people from betting on its outcome. Gambling and football simply are destined to be entwined.

It's a war no one can win. But it will continue to cause casualties, such as Sunday's party cancellations, until both sides realize they need each other and call a truce.