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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston
 

Radio Station Pulls Online Poker Ad

4 August 2005

and Richard N. Velotta

LAS VEGAS -- Nevada's leading public radio station is no longer running an advertising spot for an Internet poker room that both the state and federal governments consider to be illegal.

PartyPoker.com, the largest poker room on the Internet, sponsored a traffic report that ran on KNPR in Las Vegas last month. After the station was questioned about the sponsorship by the Las Vegas Sun, KNPR contacted the company that provided the report to air its concerns.

The report is produced by Metro Networks, a service that supplies local traffic updates to radio stations nationwide.

KNPR runs the traffic report for free in exchange for mentioning the sponsors of the report, who by federal law are not allowed to further promote specific products or services.

The decision to accept the sponsorship began with Westwood One, a publicly traded company based in New York that owns Metro Networks and creates a variety of news, sports and entertainment programming for radio.

Westwood One General Counsel David Hillman said he wasn't aware of the PartyPoker.com sponsorship and also wasn't aware of the legal issues surrounding Internet gambling.

"We might be (broadcasting traffic reports in) 75 cities around the country and 50 radio stations in each city," Hillman said. "Not every ad reaches the legal department's desk, though any controversial decision should come to me."

"We would not run ads for illegal products," he said. "Our company takes these things seriously. Just because you write a check doesn't mean we take the money."

While Hillman declined to say what would become of the sponsorship or where else it was airing nationwide, KNPR General Manager Lamar Marchese said the Las Vegas office of Metro Networks decided to pull it after a discussion with KNPR.

"They yanked the credits off the table at our questioning," Marchese said. "It was just one of those areas that was murky as to whether it was legal or not. They decided to err on the side of conservatism."

KNPR is a private nonprofit run by a group of volunteers and doesn't make decisions about sponsors or accept any money from them. But "we're responsible when things go on our air," Marchese said. "It's our liability."

"We're relying on (Metro Networks) to be the watchdog and the gatekeeper," he added. "I don't want to jeopardize our license and credibility."

Calls to the local Metro Network affiliate were referred to the corporate office in New York. Calls and emails to PartyPoker.com officials were not returned by press time.

Bill Thompson, a professor of public administration at UNLV, said it was "incredible" that KNPR would air an ad for an online casino. The station "will severely lose public support if they do any recognition of Internet gambling sites that are considered illegal," even if courts disagree on the matter, said Thompson, who has participated in KNPR radio shows.

Toni Cowan, a senior deputy attorney general with the Nevada Attorney General's office, said she was "surprised" that KNPR would have accepted the sponsorship in the first place.

Cowan, a regular KNPR listener, said the Attorney General likely wouldn't prosecute an Internet casino advertiser in Nevada unless it involved a gaming company licensed in Nevada.

Internet casino representatives in the past have blasted the U.S. Department of Justice's stance that Internet gambling is illegal, saying it is based on a flawed and outdated law that is ripe for a legal challenge. Some media companies, including magazines and Web sites based in Las Vegas, continue to run Internet casino ads in open defiance of the government and say they also are protected by the First Amendment, which affords the right to promote legal products and services.

The Internet is a global network that is not necessarily bound by U.S. law or interpretations of the law, they say.

But experts agree that Nevada law clearly makes it illegal for Web casinos to take bets from Nevadans, and plainly prohibits the state's residents from betting on the sites.

PartyPoker.com is not the only Internet casino to advertise in the nation's gambling capital. After a relatively brief hiatus last year when the federal government sent warning letters to media companies about accepting ads for Internet casinos, some companies are emerging with even bolder advertising campaigns.

Sportsbook.com, an affiliate of a publicly-traded gaming company based in the United Kingdom, recently ran a billboard near the Las Vegas Convention Center proclaiming, "What happens in Vegas, happens at Sportsbook.com."

Sportsbook.com, which allows Americans to gamble on a variety of sporting events, also signed a deal with Las Vegas-based boxing promoter Top Rank to sponsor two title fights, at Los Angeles' Staples Center in May and another at Madison Square Garden in New York in June.

And GoldenPalace.com, which sponsored a poker event during the final day of the World Series of Poker at Binion's in downtown Las Vegas, has hired women to walk up and down the Strip wearing vests that contain miniature television screens and play videos promoting the Internet casino.

To attempt to further circumvent the federal government's stance against online gambling, some Internet casinos are running television and radio spots that promote play-for-free sites instead of real-money sites. The play money sites typically have the same name as the real casinos but use a .net moniker instead of a .com suffix.

Radio Station Pulls Online Poker Ad is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.