Casinos Free to Air TV Ads

10 August 1999
Commercial casinos may run radio and television advertisements in all 50 states without fear of prosecution, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing.

The legal brief, for all practical purposes, resolves a question that the Supreme Court had left open in June, when it said a federal ban on those ads was unconstitutional. Although that ruling was unanimous, the justices didn't clearly say whether it applied only in the dozen or so states where commercial casinos are legal. In a case involving Players International, Inc., the Justice Department on Monday said it would no longer enforce the law anywhere in the country.

"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 government said.

The Supreme Court in June said the rules violated the U.S. Constitution's free-speech clause by permitting ads by Indian and state-run casinos, but not private ones. The high court case involved a lawsuit by a trade group for broadcasters in Louisiana, a state that permits commercial casino gambling.

"(The ad ban) is so pierced by exemptions and inconsistencies that the government cannot hope to exonerate it," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court. Stevens also said the law "may not be applied to advertisements of private casinos gambling that are broadcast by radio or television stations located in Louisiana, where such gambling is legal."

That last phrase prompted some lawyers to wonder whether the Justice Department could still enforce the law in some parts of the country. "This is a major First Amendment victory for...the broadcast industry," said Edward Fritts, chief executive officer of the National Association of Broadcasters. "This completes our nearly 10-year battle against these advertising restrictions."