Jewish World Review April 25, 2000 / 20 Nissan, 5760
Now that casino ads
are allowed to tell the
truth . . .
LAS VEGAS Now that casinos can legally
advertise on television and radio what they are really
selling -- the gambling experience -- I have a
suggestion for them. Not that they'll take it.
For many years, casinos were not allowed to depict
or even refer to gambling in their commercials. It
was an odd thing to have to omit -- what is a casino
going to promote to the public, if not gambling? -- but
that was the law.
A 1934 federal law. Congress, almost 70 years ago,
was worried about the effects that gambling had on
the American public, and decided that radio stations
should not be allowed to help lure gamblers. Later
the prohibition was extended to the new medium of
Now, you may think you have seen many casino
commercials over the years. And you have -- but
they have been filled with code phrases like "Las
Vegas-style excitement," or "the great Vegas
experience." Casinos all over the country learned to
promote their restaurants, their nightclubs, their
24-hours-a-day action -- and to do so without ever
mentioning or showing gambling. The word "casino"
itself was banned -- a casino could not, on TV or
radio, advertise that it was a casino.
But that has recently changed. The
no-casino-commercials law did not apply to the
many casinos owned by Native American tribes --
just to privately owned casinos. State lotteries were
allowed to advertise on TV and radio all they
wanted -- the states could ask people to gamble, the
casinos could not.
It didn't seem fair -- and last year, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that it wasn't. Now casinos are allowed
to show gambling in their TV commercials, to
emphasize that they are casinos and that they want
you to bet there. No longer are casino ads restricted
to shots of happy couples clicking champagne
glasses; now, craps tables and roulette wheels and
slot machines are permitted to star in the
So here is my proposal:
If the casinos are going to accurately depict what
business they're in -- and they have long said that
they want to be free to realistically portray the
casino experience -- then they should include Sgt.
Solomon Bell in their commercials.
Bell was a police officer in Oak Park, Mich., who,
earlier this year, lost $20,000 in one of Detroit's new
casinos -- and then pulled out his service revolver
and, right there in the casino, put a bullet in his head.
Was the gambling loss the only problem in Sgt. Bell's
life? No. But the casino is where he broke -- and
reportedly, several weeks before his own suicide, he
had told a friend about how fellow officers had
stopped a woman who was despondent over
gambling debts from killing herself.
The casino business is often the despair business --
something that it does not like to advertise. The
reason that law was on the books for all those years
was that the federal and state governments were for
a long time not shy about admitting the harm that
gambling brings to so many people. Now that so
many states are in bed with the gambling industry --
and now that so many states encourage their own
citizens to gamble away their money in state-run
lotteries -- government bodies prefer not to look the
problem in the face. They would be ashamed of
themselves if they did.
If you disagree with me, do yourself a favor: Walk
through a casino at 6 a.m. I've done it on many
occasions. The people who are gambling at that hour
are not there for good times and lighthearted
recreation. They're either hooked, or desperately
trying to win their money back. Walk over to the pay
phones in a casino at 6 or 7 in the morning; listen to
the anguished people calling loved ones, begging for
enough money to buy transportation home.
A fellow visitor to Las Vegas the other day told me,
matter-of-factly, about how he had walked through
the casino in his hotel early that morning, on his way
to play golf, and had seen a man crying -- literally
crying -- to his wife as the man tried to explain to
her that all their money was gone. It was breakfast
time on a new day -- and the casino had taken all
Now the casinos are free to advertise what they
really do -- and they are pleased, because they will
get to film colorful commercials featuring the various
games of chance. Finally, they say, they can take
advantage of truth in advertising -- finally they can
show the true product.
While they're at it -- truth in advertising -- they ought
to have the courage to tell the whole truth. Show the
sadness; show the despair. Show the world what
business they're really
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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