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Harrah's Entertainment to Ban Ads That Target Children and Gamblers

Hard on the heels of tobacco companies and Hollywood studios that are changing the marketing of their products to children, one Las Vegas casino operator is banning advertising that appeals to kids as well as to pathological gamblers.

Phil Satre, Harrah's Entertainment's chairman and chief executive, plans to announce the company's so-called marketing and advertising code tonight in Las Vegas. The announcement will come at an industry gala where entertainer Wayne Newton and Terry Lanni, chairman of MGM Mirage, will be inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame.

Mr. Satre plans to describe Harrah's code, which the company says is the most conservative in the industry. Harrah's will pledge not to advertise in college newspapers, on newspapers' comics pages, on toys or children's wear, or within 500 feet of schools. It will promise not to imply that gambling is a rite of passage or that irresponsible gambling is amusing. And it bans the paycheck promotions that attempt to draw in freshly cash-flush customers.

Harrah's targets customers between 45 and 70 years old who spend $1,000 to $2,000 a year on gambling -- far less than an addicted gambler, Mr. Satre says. "That's the kind of customer that we want, and we want everybody to know that," he says.

The move follows pressure by antigambling activists on casino companies to curtail marketing gimmicks that appeal to the easily susceptible. They have been lobbying recently to keep casinos from installing slot machines appealing to youngsters, such as ones emblazoned with characters from the "South Park" animated series.

Harrah's will follow the announcement of its code with ads outlining it in national and some regional newspapers. Mr. Satre also plans a lobbying effort, visiting state and federal legislators, to promote the company as a responsible casino operator. Eventually, Mr. Satre says, "It would be my hope that the codes we're doing now become standards for the industry."

Less than a year ago, the gambling industry's Washington trade group, the American Gaming Association, announced less conservative standards, in a move partly to forestall the possibility of government regulation of casino advertising. The trade group's voluntary standards don't prohibit casino-logo toys, games and clothing or toy giveaways.

Toys and children's games are popular items in many casino gift shops -- including Harrah's, though the company says it will soon be removing them. Children's goods are even popping up on casino Web sites. Park Place Entertainment's Caesars.com sells Caesar's Beanie Babies and toddler-sized logo robes and sippy cups, reached by clicking an icon labeled "kids." MGM Mirage also sells kids' shirts complete with logo on its site. A number of citizens' groups have reacted strongly against these children's items.

"We went through this same drill with Joe Camel and cigarettes," says Tom Grey, an anticasino activist. "You say people ought to be 21 before they gamble, but then they do that."

MGM Mirage says, "It is something that if we did not have it, we would receive complaints. When people travel, they want to bring back things for their kids."

Park Place says parents demand the products as gifts for their children.

The trade association's guidelines also don't address the payday bonanzas that are popular in Las Vegas. Many casinos advertise "Double Your Paycheck!" on local billboards, with chances to double jackpots or win free meals or show tickets for gamblers who come in with their paychecks. Many offer to cash welfare and Social-Security checks as well.

The gambling association considered discouraging such promotions last year, says Judy Patterson, the group's executive director, but a number of members balked. "By and large, our members don't approve of that," says Ms. Patterson. "But there's competition, and sometimes they can't go with their best judgment."

Harrah's has aggressively pushed into other forms of casino advertising. It was the first to show the explicit act of gambling -- as opposed to mood shots of casino restaurants and swimming pools -- after some federal restrictions on gambling advertising were removed by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Harrah's code was designed largely by Jan Jones, a former Las Vegas mayor who joined Harrah's a year or so ago as its top lobbyist and communicator. As mayor, Ms. Jones tried unsuccessfully to ban the slot machines endemic to Las Vegas supermarkets and convenience stores. "I think in the gaming industry you do have to hold yourself to a higher standard of morality," she says. "It is an adult business."


Christina Binkley, The Wall Street Journal. October 19, 2000

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