Since the 1990s, smoking has been banned in most of the poker rooms of casinos across the States of America. For the most part, however, smoking has been allowed in other areas of casinos outside of the sacred poker room area. Individual states are now having issues with the implementation of smoking bans in their locales (passed for the health of employees and the public), with Indiana the latest to sound off on the issue.
The Majestic Star Casino in Gary, IN, is complaining to state officials that the ban on smoking indoors is influencing its bottom line. The anti-smoking law, passed in 2012, banned smoking in most public places. Some exceptions were allowed, such as for private membership clubs and bars, tobacco retail outlets and hookah bars and horse racing facilities and casinos. Local leadership, however, could extend the law as they saw fit for their own locations.
Apparently, that is what the Gary Common Council is looking to do. On the table for the Council is an ordinance that would ban smoking in the Majestic Star period, not just the poker room. The smoking ban is backed by a group called “Smoke Free in the G” and is looking to pass the legislation to protect the employees of the casino. Naturally, the Majestic Star sees it another way and has made their opinion known to the members of the Council.
Majestic Star Chief Executive Officer Peter Liguori has said that the ban on smoking would have a tremendous impact on the success of the casino. He estimates that a ban on smoking would see the casino lose about $3 million in tax revenues for the state. Additionally, Liguori says that 400 jobs could be lost if the measure was passed. A look at other states who have passed anti-smoking legislation for their casinos demonstrates that Liguori isn’t blowing smoke.
In the state of Illinois (one of the competitors for Indiana’s action), a ban on smoking (called the “Smoke Free Illinois Act”) was put in place in 2008. Player numbers for the casino industry in the Land of Lincoln suffered following the smoking ban, with attendance in casinos falling by 22%. Estimates show that the total loss in revenues was around $200 million for the first year of the ban alone, with the estimated tax loss totaling over $12 million for that year.
2008 also saw the Atlantic City casino industry implement a smoking ban, much to the dismay of its bottom line. Facing increased competition from such states as Pennsylvania (which allowed smoking), the casinos in Atlantic City saw a 15% drop in customers, arguably because of the smoking ban but also possibly because of the “Great Recession” of 2018. New Jersey politicos, seeing the numbers fall, decided that the ban was wrong and, within a year, rescinded the ban.
In Florida, the Seminole Indians try to walk on both sides of the line. While their poker rooms remain smoke free, their casinos allow for smoking. This is because as a sovereign entity, they can set their own rules regarding smoking outside of those set by the Florida legislature and the “law of the land,” the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act. According to noted gaming journalist Nick Sortal, however, the Seminoles are trying to walk a fine line with the issue.
According to Sortal, the Seminoles are trying “to balance the desires of both smokers and nonsmokers.” To achieve this goal, the tribe is stepping up efforts in trying to keep smoking on the floor of their casinos and out of what is described as “general areas” such as restrooms, walkways, and elevator banks. To cater to those who don’t partake of tobacco or are disturbed by the scent, Sortal also states that they have installed improved air filtration and air conditioning systems on their South Florida properties.
Considering that there seems to be a predominance of smokers in the gaming community, the issue of smoking/non-smoking is an important one. It is estimated that only 10% of the country uses tobacco products, however, so the times may be changing on that stereotype.