State officials were shocked recently when ads for an online gambling casino starting popping up on state Web sites. Gambling, even online gambling, is illegal in Hawaii.
How it happened was a difficult question to solve. It was a problem for the state because these ads actually encouraged people to make a bet and that would be against the law.
“They’re there to get some information from the state and when they see a gambling ad I don’t think that’s correct,” state campaign commissioner Tony Baldomero said.
The online casino ad popped up on several state Web pages when users tried to download documents. KITV4 News reporter Daryl Huff found it on Web sites for the Department of Transportation, the governor’s office and the campaign spending commission.
The ads seemed to violate a state policy against any advertising, let alone of an illegal product.
“We’re a state agency: we are not supposed to be putting ads out,” Baldomero said.
The state was not responsible for the gambling pitch, nor were state contractors who store the data; it also wasn’t the browser. The source was tracked through KITV’s own electronic backyard. A company called Real Networks, which KITV recommends people use to watch video on our Web site, sends out the ads.
The ads are the price people pay for the free software.
“Why are there ads on TV? Why is there ads on radio?” computer expert Peter Kay said. “Well, you are getting this content for free.”
Real Networks executives say they screen their advertisers because the ads do pop up without warning.
“Something that might be objectionable to children or offensive to someone, then we would very much kind of evaluate whether we would serve up that ad or not,”
Kay said that like other companies, Real Networks’ long and detailed user agreement tells consumers that they will be both exposed to ads and have their Internet usage monitored.
Users can avoid some advertising by minimizing the software you download. However, many consumers don’t get the message.
“You really have to have an awareness of what you are installing on your machine,” Kay said. “You really have to be careful about that.”
Because of Huff’s questions, Real Networks has blocked the casino ad from reaching Hawaii Internet service providers except for America Online. The company says it did not want to advertise a product where it is illegal.