Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Feds Going After On-line Gambling: The New York Times recently explored the attempts of the federal government to crack down on Internet gambling sites, many of which are hosted overseas and thus outside the jurisdiction of the American government. Federal prosecutors are avoiding this problem by threatening legal action not against the gambling sites, but rather against American companies that run advertisements for the sites. The threats are based on a controversial legal concept that holds that the American businesses, by providing advertising and other services that support Internet gambling, are "aiding and abetting" online casinos.

As a result, on-line gambling sites, most of which focus in some part on sports gambling, are finding it increasingly difficult to attract new customers and remain profitable. There are, however, legal challenges that could be raised against the government's actions.

Primarily, the companies could argue that the implicit ban violates 1st Amendment free speech rights by limiting choice of advertisement. However, commercial speech generally receives the lowest protection of any non-indecent speech, placing a larger hurdle for the companies to overcome. In addition, the government's case is improved on policy grounds, as the companies are profiting on an activity that clearly violates American law.

Of course, there is the libertarian debate that claims the government should stop making moral judgments, such as banning gambling. However, while the laws remain on the books, companies may have difficulty convincing a court that free speech trumps in this case.


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