Court Won't Act Fast on Gambling Advertising Issue

13 January 1999

The Supreme Court today refused to grant fast-track review to a federal law that would protect compulsive gamblers from the lure of casinos and games of chance. The justices, acting without comment, let stand a New Jersey judge's ruling that free-speech rights are violated by the government's ban on television and radio ads that promote casinos not owned by Indian tribes.

Government lawyers had urged the highest court to review the judge's ruling even before the case had been looked at by the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The advertising ban is in effect in only some parts of the nation because some federal appeals courts have ruled it unconstitutional while others have upheld it.

The longstanding federal law bans broadcast advertising for "any lottery, gift enterprise or similar scheme offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance." But Congress in the past 20 years has amended the anti-broadcast law to allow airing ads for casinos on Indian reservations, state-run lotteries or any gambling sponsored by non-profit promoters working for charitable purposes.

Today, 37 states and the District of Columbia sponsor - and aggressively advertise - lotteries; more than two-thirds of the states are home to Indian-owned casinos. Non-Indian casinos are legal in 22 states.

Still pending before the justices is an appeal of a ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the ban.

In the appeal rejected today, administration lawyers pointed to studies detailing economic and social problems, such as compulsive gambling and organized crime, associated with casino gambling and other gambling activities.

The appeal said that "broadcast advertising of casino gambling would directly contribute to compulsive gambling by reaching into the homes of current and potential compulsive gamblers and giving them immediate and repeated exposure to the sights and sounds of gambling, presented in especially attractive and persuasive ways."

In defending the broadcast ban, government lawyers said "no non-speech regulatory alternative offers comparable benefits in terms of reducing the risks and costs of compulsive gambling."