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Amid gambling crackdown, are ads legal?

Published November 13, 2006


Bookmaking and high-stakes poker have long been a thing of smoky, back-room clubs in New York, and for good reason. Most organized gambling is illegal there. But you wouldn't know it driving through Manhattan. Giant billboards brazenly advertise Internet bookies like

But a growing number of state and federal law enforcement agencies say such ads are illegal.

"Gaming and bookmaking are not legal in New York, so anyone who markets to a New Yorker may be in violation of New York state law," said Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The question over the legality the ads comes amid a big crackdown on Internet gambling. President Bush signed legislation Oct. 13 banning credit card and electronic fund transfer companies from processing the financial transactions U.S. players often use to settle online wagers.

The Justice Department has been warning since 2003 that publishers and broadcasters who advertise gambling sites could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a crime. Prosecutions of advertisers are rare, however, and media companies accepting the ads insist they are breaking no law.

That position sometimes hangs on a loose interpretation of what constitutes a gambling ad.

ESPN runs ads for online poker sites during its broadcasts of the Word Series of Poker, but says it does so only for Web pages that don't process bets. "We only accept advertising for educational, learn-to-play, for-free sites," said Keri Potts of ESPN.

Many of these so-called "educational" sites, however, are simply companion pages to full-fledged gambling operations, easily reachable with a few mouse clicks or by changing the last few characters of a Web address from ".net" to ".com."

Despite a few settlements, Internet gambling lawyer Lawrence Walters said there is uncertainty over whether running advertisements for an offshore gambling concern is illegal.

"They scare these people to death and tell them they are going to prosecute them criminally if they don't cooperate ... but I'm looking forward to the day that someone decides to fight this," he said.

[Last modified November 13, 2006, 01:04:06]

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