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U.S. CELEBRITIES ENDORSE ONLINE GAMBLING



U.S. Celebrities Endorsing Online Gambling Operations
Nov 28, 2005  
2005 Jason Kirk  

The easiest way to get name recognition for a product in today's media-saturated world is to get a famous name to sign on as an endorser. This is an old practice whose effectiveness hasn't worn off over the years - people form attachments to their favorite celebrities, and the hope in having these celebrities endorse products is that people's attachments will carry over in the form of buying the product. Even if only a small fraction of people buy products because of endorsements, the relatively low-cost advertising method usually pays off in the end. It's no surprise, therefore, that online poker and gambling sites have taken to having celebrities endorse their products. Recently, however, the legality of such endorsements in the United States has come under question.

According to some experts, celebrities who endorse offshore casinos may be legally liable for aiding and abetting the offshore companies who are providing unlicensed gambling within the U.S. The government contends that online wagering of any sort is illegal because of an antiquated law - the 1961 Wire Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress to prevent the use of telephone lines in the business of sports betting. However, the application of this law to internet wagering is uncertain because it appears to have been written with a very narrow target in mind. In fact, in recent years Senator John Kyl of Arizona has introduced bills to ban online gambling within the U.S., lending credence to the interpretation that the current laws don't prohibit online gambling.

Right now the consequences for celebrity endorsers are murky at best. So far nobody has been prosecuted for endorsing offshore casinos. And for the government to begin prosecutions, they would either have to pick a scapegoat or arrest every single celebrity who has endorsed a company that allows Americans to place wagers online. The range of celebrities who have jumped on board is a wide one, ranging from athletes (Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills and Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls) to models (Victoria's Secret model Brooke Burke) to actors (Tom Arnold and James Woods) and beyond. One of the most prominent offshore casino endorsers was once a government official himself - former professional wrestler and Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura. It's hard to imagine that a significant portion of the American public wouldn't oppose such a round-up of celebrities who are simply lending their names to a service, and the outcry against the prosecution of a scapegoat would likely be even greater.

Ventura's take is one likely to be popular with anyone who enjoys gambling. He maintains that millions of Americans want to place bets online, whether on sports or horse races or poker, and there's no reason to prevent them from doing so in the land of the free. The logic behind such assertions is hard to deny, but thanks to the patchwork U.S. laws regarding gambling, logic may not be enough to protect the offshore casinos' celebrity endorsers. In 2004 the U.S. Attorney's office in the eastern district of Missouri promised it would pursue online sports betting enterprises as well as those who aided them in providing their services within the U.S. Because the companies providing online betting are much more difficult to prosecute than American citizens, it's very easy to see the Justice Department settling for hanging B-list celebrities out to dry. The investigation launched by the eastern Missouri U.S. Attorney is ongoing, suggesting that the evidence that celebrity endorsers are breaking the law is scant at best. However, the delay between the announcement of the investigation and any conclusion to it could mean that the Justice Department will try to use circuitous legal reasoning to convince a judge to set a new precedent against online gambling.

In the meantime, celebrities continue to sign deals endorsing online poker rooms and sportsbooks. Robert Iler, who plays Tony Soprano's son on the hit HBO series "The Sopranos," began endorsing the online poker room betcris.com this month after being caught in a police raid at an underground New York City card room. The company signed him to promote online poker as the safest way of playing the game. It may eventually turn out that online gambling is just as dangerous for him as the underground games in New York, but for now things continue to move along much as they have since the beginning of the poker boom.


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