Illinois reignites debate on casino smoking

Illinois reignites debate on casino smoking

February 06, 2018 3:00 AM


The smoking problem for casinos is back in the news with a recently released study in Illinois contending banning smoking in gambling establishments is not bad for business.

But, how can this study be accurate when casino/resort operators uniformly say banning smoking has driven potential customers away and is prompting those smoking guests that do visit to go outside to smoke and then leave earlier than they might have if they were allowed to light up inside?

The Illinois smoking ban was one of the first in the U.S. to make commercial casinos completely smoke-free, banning smoking in casinos and within 15 feet of their entrances. However, the new state law coincided with the economic downturn in 2008. Some believe that makes it impossible to determine if smoking caused a revenue downturn for state casinos or if it was the economic slump.

Smoking is an important issue for casino operators, especially in regions where non-Indian casinos compete with tribal operations. Tribal casinos are not required to adhere to state or federal smoking prohibitions and most of the tribal casinos allow smoking. Non-Indian casinos claim they are at a competitive disadvantage because smoking is not allowed.

Dr. John Tauras of the National Bureau of Economic Research and the University of Illinois-Chicago says data from his smoking study analyzing admission receipts and revenue clearly indicated the Illinois law that banned smoking in casinos has had no significant negative economic consequences for casinos in terms of per-capita admissions or revenues.

Tauras also suggest the study might prompt tribal casino operators to reconsider the smoking policies at their casinos nationwide.

The new study looked at foot traffic and revenues for 10 years before and eight years after the Illinois smoking ban came into force and compared them with numbers for the surrounding states of Iowa, Indiana and Missouri, making per capita adjustments based on the states’ overall populations. The conclusion was that banning smoking did not hurt business.

I have no idea if Tauras or the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private nonprofit research organization, has any preconceived ideas about smoking or the other health and economic issues they’ve studied. I invite you to decide that for yourself.

However, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gambling Association Tom Swoik, in comments to Reuters about this new study, noted a 2009 examination of the issue that concluded the Illinois smoking ban was responsible for a 20 percent drop in revenues in 2008 alone, contributing mightily to the state’s massive budget deficit.

“We do know from other studies that the more time someone spends on the casino floor, the more likely they are to keep playing,” Swoik said. “If they have to go outside to smoke, they’re more likely to light up and then leave.

“We know that secondhand smoke is not beneficial to your health, and at the same time, having a facility where people can smoke at a casino is beneficial for revenue,” he added. “It can be hard to weigh the negative health effects versus the economic numbers.”

In Nevada, this country’s major gambling hub, there is a lot of observational evidence when it comes to smoking in casino/resorts. In a state in which the major export and import is cold, hard cash, no study is needed to determine if allowing smoking is good for business. If barring all smoking in casinos didn’t adversely impact revenue, it would probably be banned.

Nevada casinos restrict smoking to a relatively small degree, but it is not completely outlawed.

One of my first lessons that any newcomer learns when relocating to Nevada is money does definitely talk. Albeit a crass realization, it rings true. It may be present in other regions of this country, but in those areas it is often somewhat hidden and not talked about. In Nevada, it’s out in the open and acknowledged.

Smoking is what’s best for business, so it’s allowed during most gambling games in casino/resorts and there’s no new research study that can dispute my findings.