Smoking ban hits slot bars

Nov 13, 2006 3:41 AM

The new Nevada law that will chase smokers out of slot machine sections at supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores and from pubs that serve food begs the question: Would gamblers rather play or eat?

"Either people can smoke and gamble and drink, or people can eat and gamble and drink — there’s not much choice there," said Geno Hill, who owns five Rum Runner bars offering food and slots in Las Vegas and who is the president of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association.

With the law taking effect Dec. 8, many small tavern and restaurant owners are struggling to figure out what it means for them.

"Drinking and gambling areas are where your profits come from," Hill said, adding that profit margins on serving food are slim, which suggest many bars may give up serving food.

Hill said he fears that if his patrons can’t smoke while they drink and gamble, they will go to the casinos, which are exempt from the law.

Moreover, there are lingering questions over how and who will enforce the law, and whether taverns that serve food can erect partitions to close off "dining areas" in which smoking could be prohibited while leaving the rest of the bar open to smokers.

Harry York, chief executive of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said his organization is trying to clarify the law’s provisions for its members. "We’re trying to get a one-pager that makes sense," he said.

The transition, he said, will be hard for small bars that serve food, and he hopes for a "reasonable" enforcement approach as businesses adjust.

While some customers may gravitate to the big casinos to be able to smoke and wager at the same time, York said neighborhood bars attract their own clientele.

"It’s a different atmosphere," he said of the small clubs. "I personally think people will adjust because it’s not like they can go next door."