High court may strike down ban on advertising of casinos

WASHINGTON (BP)--The federal ban on broadcast advertising of gambling at private casinos may not exist much longer.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a challenge by the Greater New Orleans Broadcasting Association to the congressional ban on nonmisleading advertising of casino gambling via radio and television.

The high court appears poised to strike down the prohibition. The New Orleans organization appealed a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion upholding the ban. The Supreme 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 both struck down the ban. Last year, the high court denied review of the Ninth Circuit's decision, leaving the ban invalid in that circuit.

The Supreme Court's willingness to review the Fifth Circuit appeal may be a signal it will act to strike down that court's ruling and the ban.

While the federal government argues it has an interest in maintaining the ban because of gambling's social costs, including compulsive wagering, the broadcasting association contends the prohibition is riddled with inconsistencies.

The law allows exceptions to what was once a general advertising ban. Among the forms of gambling for which ads are allowed are Indian casinos and state-sponsored lotteries.

Associate Justice David Souter asked Barbara Underwood, the deputy solicitor general, why the problem is different for private casinos than tribal casinos. Souter told her that he is unaware of any suggestion compulsive gambling is not occurring at Indian casinos.

The federal government's only justification, therefore, would seem to be it has an interest in providing the exception for a worthy group, such as Indians, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer suggested.

Arguing for the broadcasting association, Bruce Ennis told the justices the government could impose regulations, such as a prohibition on gambling on credit, to address compulsive gambling.

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