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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

Smoke Free Casinos on the Horizon in Vegas?

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Next month Nevada voters have the chance to consider two major anti-smoking initiatives, neither of which will restrict smoking in casinos. But industry analysts say that a casino smoking ban may be in the cards before long.

Question 4 on Nevada's state ballot would ban smoking in retail stores, galleries, libraries, museums and similar places that already tend to be nonsmoking, while allowing bars as well as grocery stores and convenience stores with slots to continue to accommodate smokers in those gambling alcoves. Question 4 is supported by the gaming industry.

The more sweeping Question 5, put forth by anti-smoking groups such as the Nevada State Medical Association and the American Cancer Society, would ban smoking in most venues except for the gaming floors of casinos. The initiative exempts bars that don't serve meals, although most bars in Nevada - partly to comply with a law allowing slot machines in bars only if gaming is "incidental" to the business - also prepare food.

This opens up the question for casino owners and patrons - would you frequent a casino that does not allow smoking? Long-term anecdotal evidence has always tended toward the negative, reinforcing casino owners' beliefs that "this is a unique economy based on gaming revenue. Smoking is very much a part of (gamblers') lives." This according to Ron Drake, owner of the Point After Lounge in Las Vegas and a board member of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, which is backing Question 4.

However, the trade publication Global Gaming Business will soon publish a study it commissioned concluding that casinos might pick up more business than they would lose if they banned smoking. In one poll, 31 percent of casino customers questioned indicated they would visit casinos more often if they were smoke-free, compared with 11 percent who said they would patronize another casino that allowed smoking, according to Global Gaming Business Editor Roger Gros.

California and New York are two states that already have smoking bans in place for all restaurants and bars, and while the impact on business hasn't been insignificant, studies show that businesses experience an initial dip in revenue and then rebound to generally the same revenue numbers over the long term.

When Delaware banned smoking in public venues including their dog tracks, revenues declined for two years before beginning a rebound, initially losing 14 percent of business before rising. According to Ed Sutor, chief executive of the company that owns the Dover Downs hotel and casino in Delaware, "long term, it's going to be good for the company," he said. "We don't have to clean the place as much. We have domes with clouds on the ceiling and the clouds were turning yellow. And it helps with health benefits."

Sutor estimates that his establishment lost nearly 20 percent of revenues from the ban initially, but has since been able to attract nonsmokers to the venue, as well as retaining the smoking customers who continue to frequent the track, simply smoking outside.

Casino Windsor in Ontario hopes to find that rebound soon, as it is feeling the sting of a province-wide smoking ban that started in June, laying off many workers and watching revenues drop by nearly 20 percent in the months immediately following the ban. Heightened border security and a stronger Canadian dollar have also been cited as factors for the slowdown at the casino, which is very close to the US border and near three competing Detroit casinos. With only a few months of smoke-free operations in the books, it remains to be seen whether Casino Windsor will see the same resurgence that Dover Downs experienced.

Like it or not, casino owners will soon have to face the issue as smokers become more and more marginalized and most venues become smoke-free. This is less an issue for poker players than many other casino gamblers, as many poker rooms have been non-smoking for several years already, especially along the Strip. Smoking poker players have already become accustomed to stepping away from the table for their smoke breaks, now they may have to step completely outside the casino.

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