Smokeless poker gaining steam

June 05, 2001 7:14 AM
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Binion’s World Series of Poker will go smoke-free next year, as will the Queens Classic Poker Tournament at the Four Queens this fall. And if players and dealers get their way, more card rooms will follow suit.

Poker’s clean-air act got a boost last weekend when Bellagio and The Mirage snuffed the butts in their poker parlors. Players have responded with almost universal praise.

"It’s fabulous. It’s definitely a trend," says Barry Shulman, a longtime poker devotee and editor of Card Player magazine.

"This is the single most positive thing that has happened in poker here in the last five years," says one professional player who spends upwards of 100 hours a month at Bellagio and The Mirage. "Some nights I would come home feeling sick from cigarette smoke inhalation. I think we’ll see a lot more people in the Bellagio and Mirage poker rooms as a result of the ban."

"Players talk about it [smoke] all the time. I wish everyone would go smokeless," says Mary Fico, a shift supervisor at The Orleans.

Despite the rave reviews, area casinos are watching and waiting. Mandalay Resorts and Station Casinos, as well as The Orleans and the Regent, say their poker rooms aren’t turning off the smoking lamp - yet. Instead, local properties continue to play around the edges with segregated non-smoking tables.

But The Mirage and Bellagio decided that poker’s tight confines demanded an across-the-board ban. The Mirage even went one step further by prohibiting smoking in the adjacent keno lounge.

Shulman predicts it’s just a matter of time until more casinos climb on the bandwagon. "Smokers go where the game is, but non-smokers won’t play. There are people, including a lot of high-end players, who just won’t play here because of the smoke," he says.

Sources say California is driving the anti-smoking crusade. Strict prohibitions on indoor smoking mean that the Golden State’s poker parlors - including the City of Commerce’s 150-table Bicycle Club - bar smoking. Likewise, some of the biggest poker parlors in Atlantic City and Connecticut have kicked the habit.

Ever sensitive to market demands, MGM Mirage decided to switch. "I was reminded that it was 12 years ago that The Mirage opened Las Vegas’ first non-smoking showroom," says corporate spokesman Alan Feldman.

But amid brisk business at their tables over the weekend, Bellagio and The Mirage say there are no plans to extend the smoke-free policy into other areas of the casino.

Out in Summerlin, the Regent surveyed its players and found only about one in six smoked. "Most of them go out for a break anyway. I hope we go along," says one floor man.

"We’re seeing more and more non-smokers," confirms The Orleans’ Fico. "We’re still going to allow smoking at the Tournament of Champions [June 7-22] but I wish we’d change."

Maybe the late Silver City Casino was just a few years ahead of its time in the early ’90s when it went smoke-free. That ill-fated experiment lasted less than a year before owner Circus Circus (now Mandalay) examined a sagging bottom line and told patrons they could light up again.