Casinos Free to Shill the Thrills of Gambling

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Be consistent. That was the message from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday when the Justices unanimously struck down the federal governmentís blanket ban on radio and television advertising by private casinos. The court said the ban must be lifted in states where such casinos are legal. The reason: The prohibition "is so pierced by exemptions and inconsistencies," according to Justice John Paul Stevens. The governmentís claim that the ban was essential to protect the nationís estimated 3 million compulsive gamblers failed to stand up in the face of Congressís repeated dilution of the law, which now permits broadcast ads for casinos on Indian reservations, state-run lotteries and gambling run by nonprofit groups for charitable purposes.

The courtís request for consistency comes in an area of the law where the Justices have been remarkably consistent themselves. "Despite strong ideological splits," says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen, "the courtís unanimous decision in this case again shows that there is a lot of agreement on First Amendment free speech issues among the Justices." Though the high bench has been pulling back in a number of areas -- such as privacy and the separation of church and state -- the present court has maintained a steadfast support for free expression. It also did not hurt that this case, from Louisiana, provided a little something for everyone on the bench, says Cohen. "For liberals it was easy to approach it as a free speech case, and for conservatives there was the added attraction of seeing the case as one involving the right to do business without undue government regulation."