Lawsuit Filed Over Search and Gambling Ads

Yahoo, Google, and several other major Web sites and companies (including ClickZ’s publisher, Jupitermedia) have been hit with a lawsuit saying they carry online gambling ads in violation of California law. This comes after two of the major search companies earlier this year made moves that were supposed to remove online gambling ads entirely.

The suit was filed on behalf of all Californians and specifically names two. One of them used search engines to find online gambling sites and lost $100,000, it’s claimed.

Although online gambling may be illegal in California, it’s unclear whether just carrying ads for online gambling that are seen by people within the state is illegal. The lawsuit requests this be deemed the case:

By this action, plaintiffs seek to have defendants’ paid advertisement of Internet gambling in California declared illegal, seek to enjoin defendants from advertising unlicensed Internet gambling businesses to persons in California.

As I’ve written before, removing ads won’t prevent access to such material through editorial listings. The plaintiff who lost money could just as easily have found an online gambling site through a non-paid search engine listing. The only difference is the search engine would have earned no money from the click.

The filing also attempts to make ads for “illegal gambling” appear different because of the “astounding” click rate of $12.97 shown in one instance compared to “modest” prices for other products and services.

Of course, terms like “mesothelioma” and “structured settlement” have consistently hit Overture’s $100 max price per click for months. Law firms seeking clients have contributed to driving up those prices. A high bid price, it’s fair to say, doesn’t indicate the legality (or otherwise) of a product or service.

Both Yahoo and Google were supposed to have removed online casino ads by the end of April, following apparent pressure from the U.S. government. Nevertheless, they continued — and still seem to appear. The lawsuit documents some examples. (Posts on the Search Engine Watch Forum support this. A longer version of this column also illustrates how such ads continue.)

In reaction to the U.S. government’s pressure, a new lawsuit just filed on behalf of Casino City claims online gaming advertisements are protected by First Amendment free speech rights.

This column was adopted from ClickZ’s A longer, more detailed version is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

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