Many casinos outside Nevada face tough marketing rules - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Recent ads for Las Vegas casinos feature bunny rabbits cavorting with women in bikinis and half-naked women partying in nightclubs.

And then theres the rest of the world.

Casino marketers from other states and countries gathered for a conference in Las Vegas earlier this week and described restrictive advertising rules they believe are tied in part to skepticism of the gaming industry.

In New York, advertising for racetrack casinos cant feature the words "slots" or "gambling."

In the Canadian province of Manitoba, advertising for casinos cant show people gambling or lure customers with "lifestyle change" words such as "rich" and "dream."

In Puerto Rico, casinos cant advertise save for direct mail pieces sent to customers who have voluntarily given their names to casinos.

And in New Jersey, a little-cited regulation prevents advertising featuring "the portrayal or depiction of acts or simulated acts of sexual intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation, flagellation or any sexual acts which are prohibited by law." Depicting the touching of certain parts of the body also is forbidden.

Joe Weinert, an Atlantic City-based casino consultant, said parts of the country that are newer to casino gambling tend to have more restrictive advertising regulations but tend to relax those rules over time if companies follow the rules.

Weinert, vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, spoke at a conference presented by trade publisher Ascend Media Gaming Group and Reno-based casino marketer Raving Consulting Co.

"They tend to put the clamps on" at first, he said at the conference. "They have to be tough starting out."

Besides the regulators themselves, large numbers of the general public introduced to casinos often are suspicious of casinos and whether they will play fair with customers, he said.

Promoting casinos presents a challenge in Manitoba, one of several Canadian provinces where the government owns and operates casinos as well as video lottery machines around the province.

Casinos there allow no smoking, ATM machines, slot club cards or liquor consumption. Advertising also must be on the conservative side, said Ron Riopka, vice president of marketing and strategic planning for the Manitoba Lotteries Corp.

"We fondly call it the no list," Riopka said of the restrictions. "This is marketing with fear of retribution. Thats a very dangerous place to go when youre in the service industry."

Operators outside the United States say they are subject to capricious rules that change at the whim of regulators.

In Switzerland, for example, casino regulations prevent "aggressive" advertising.

Such nebulous standards mean certain operators end up pushing the envelope and others wont, said Hermann Pamminger, a spokesman for Casinos Austria.

In New Jersey, the first state to legalize casinos after Nevada, regulators initially required prior approval of Atlantic City casino advertising -- a rule that has eventually relaxed over time, Weinert said.

"Customers and the regulators as well have come to accept casinos," he said. "Regulators want the industry to make money, too. Over time they recognize the more they deregulate the industry the more licensees are going to make."

Similarly, a casino in Colorado that had previously submitted every advertising piece to regulators eventually reached a point where prior approval wasnt necessary for all ads, said Toby OBrien, a casino marketer with Raving Consulting.

Casino advertising restrictions on the books in many states, including a relatively vague advertising rule in Nevada, generally arent enforceable because of more recent Supreme Court decisions involving advertiser rights under the First Amendment, Las Vegas gaming attorney Tony Cabot said.

With respect to free speech rights, casinos are like any other American business in that they have wide latitude, Cabot said.

In a case involving liquor advertising in Puerto Rico several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that highly regulated "sin" industries shouldnt be held to a different standard than other businesses in advertising products that arent against the law, fraudulent or obscene, Cabot said.

Some residents have complained about racy casino ads in Las Vegas. But Cabot said no local advertisers need worry because the legal standard for obscenity is high.

"Risque and sexy does not mean obscene," he said.

Casinos are unlikely to challenge strict advertising rules.

"You might be right legally but is it wise to challenge the regulators on a particular point that might challenge your relationship with the regulators?" Cabot said. "I think casino companies are reasonably hesitant to bring any legal action against the regulators."

At the conference, marketers said the restrictions are unlikely to change on their own because casinos remain a highly regulated business, with many states allowing only a limited number of operators to be licensed.

"As long as society sees it as a vice this is how its going to be," OBrien said. "Whats considered questionable can change over time," however, she said.

In New Jersey, government officials initially perceived the casino business "a sin industry that would just run wild," Weinert said.

The mystique surrounding the casino industry attracts the public but also invites stringent regulation, he said.

Lotteries receive relatively little criticism for ads that appear more aggressive than those for casinos, Weinert said.

"Its a good thing state lotteries are not members of the American Gaming Association," he said, referring to the casino trade groups "Code of Conduct," a policy statement adopted in 2003 preventing member casinos from engaging in deceptive or misleading advertising.

Weinert ticked off a series of slogans now in use by lotteries nationwide, including "Itching for a million dollars," "For every dollar theres a dream" and "The road to riches is about to get busy."

The Montana lottery is selling scratch-off cards featuring characters from the recent Star Wars movie, he added.

"I think legislators get drunk on the revenues (from lotteries) and theyre not closely monitored," Weinert said.

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