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Casino advertising OK in all states, Justice says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Television and radio advertisements for gambling at commercial, non-Indian casinos will be permitted throughout the United States, the Department of Justice has decided.
The decision, reported recently by Bloomberg News, follows a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a congressional ban on broadcast advertising of gambling at commercial casinos. In that opinion, the court did not clarify whether casino gambling advertising would be allowed in states where non-tribal casinos are illegal.
In a legal brief filed Aug. 9, the Department of Justice said it would not enforce the law in any of the 50 states, Bloomberg News reported. “The government has concluded that [the ban] may not constitutionally be applied to broadcasters who transmit truthful advertisements for lawful casino gambling, whether the broadcasters are located in a state that permits casino gambling or a state that does not,” the DOJ brief said, according to Bloomberg.
Edward Fritts, chief executive officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, hailed the DOJ decision as a “major First Amendment victory” for the broadcast industry, Bloomberg reported.
A Southern Baptist specialist on gambling issues criticized the reasoning.
“According to the standard espoused by the Justice Department in deciding the legality of gambling advertisements, I would suppose that since prostitution is legal in Nevada that we could expect prostitutes in Nevada to enjoy the same Justice Department protection if they decide to advertise their activities in any of our communities,” said Barrett Duke of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Laws must be fair, but they should not contribute to immorality. Standards of decency and morality must be contributing factors in deciding permissible and impermissible activity in society.”
In its June opinion, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a federal appeals court ruling. The decision was not a surprise, primarily because Congress had permitted exceptions to what was once a general prohibition. Among the forms of gambling for which ads have been allowed in recent years are tribal casinos and state-sponsored lotteries.
While casino gambling is legal in 28 states, the majority of those do not permit non-tribal casinos. The states where non-Indian casinos are legal include Nevada, New Jersey, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota.
The Supreme Court reviewed a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion upholding the ban as a result of an appeal by the Greater New Orleans Broadcasting Association. The high court earlier had returned the case to the Fifth Circuit for it to reconsider its decision in light of a 1996 high court decision increasing protection for commercial speech. The Fifth Circuit again ruled in favor of the ban, resulting in the latest appeal to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Second and Ninth circuit courts had struck down the ban.
The high court opinion came the same week the National Gambling Impact Study Commission released a report based on its two-year study. Among more than 70 recommendations from the panel were a ban on aggressive advertising, especially that targeting youth and low-income areas, of government-approved gambling and a call for Congress to amend truth-in-advertising laws to apply to Indian gambling and state-run lotteries.
In another recent gambling-related development, pro-family leader James Dobson and consumer activist Ralph Nader joined forces to challenge the Democratic Party on its commitment to the gambling industry.
Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, and Nader asked Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew in an Aug. 2 letter if his party wanted to be the “party of the gaming industry.” If so, what policies would the Democrats promote in support of the gambling industry, they asked.
They based their letter on a June 3 report in the Las Vegas Sun in which Andrew said “Democrats in Washington want to be the party of the gaming industry.” Andrew’s comments came during a visit to Las Vegas in which President Clinton raised $400,000 for the DNC, according to the Sun.
Spokesmen for Dobson and Nader were not available Aug. 12 to say whether Andrew had responded to the letter.