Friday, 10 April 2015

Empty smokefree casinos

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights—an organisation that has nothing to do with nonsmokers, if it ever did—yesterday tweeted this picture of a smokefree casino in an effort pour encourager les autres...

Notice anything about this photo? If you spotted that there are virtually no customers, give yourself a pat on the back, although you didn't need to see the photo to know that. You could have guessed it from the word 'smokefree'.

It's the same old story. What is true of casinos is true of pubs, bingo halls and anywhere else that has a clientele disproportionately made up of smokers. Kick out your best customers and—surprise, surprise—your business suffers. Whether you personally love smoking bans or loathe them, that's a simple fact you have to accept.

The evidence that the smoking ban has damaged the British pub industry is such a clear, observable fact that I don't think even ASH attempts to claim otherwise these days. As for casinos, the picture has been the same everywhere in the world, which is why some casinos have managed to cling onto smoking rooms even in some of the most fiercely anti-smoking countries, though not the UK.

Only a handful of ideologues, like Stanton Glantz, who long ago abandoned reality for the comforting universe of their own imagination hold onto the belief that smoking bans are good for casinos (see this study, for example, but notice also the rebuttal and correction.) Longtime readers will fondly recall Glantz's claim that there were fewer heart attacks in Colorado casinos after they were forced to ban smoking. He failed to mention that this was because three of the casinos closed down and there were fewer people to have heart attacks in the casinos that remained.

In the early days of smoking bans, it was vaguely credible to argue that new nonsmoking punters would replace the departing smokers, but the jury is well and truly in now. Witness the recent battle in Indiana, for instance:

“We can’t afford to lose any more of our customers,” says Jim Brown, chief operating officer of Centaur Gaming, which owns the state’s two horse track casinos, Indiana Grand and its sibling, Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in Anderson.

Brown worries about his industry while sitting at a table in the Shelbyville casino’s swank piano bar. It fronts a newly renovated steakhouse designed to appeal to a more upscale crowd than the casino’s brew pub, where patrons can engage in off-track betting.
There’s an empty ashtray on every table.
“Getting rid of smoking just isn’t something that resonates with our customers,” Brown said.
He points to Illinois, where gaming revenues dropped 20 percent when the state banned smoking in casinos in 2008.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which studied the decline, concluded that $400 million plunge in revenue in 2009 was directly linked to casinos forcing their customers to extinguish their smokes. The loss reverberated, with $200 million less in state tax revenues and another $14 million in lost dollars to local communities.

Even politicians now admit that smoking bans hurt casinos, although they try to put a happier spin on it.

Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, said the estimated cost to the state of ending the casino exemption — about $200 million in lost tax revenue, according to the Legislative Services Agency — will be offset long-term by reduced health care costs.

Smoking bans wouldn't reduce health costs even if they saved lives, which they don't. All they do is needlessly put people out of work and stop customers satisfying their first choice preference. If bans generated more business for casinos, the owners would have introduced them long ago. In reality, they go out of their way to attract smokers, as they are doing in neighbouring Ohio...

At least three casinos have sought permission for regulators to add slot machines to designated smoking areas. To lure patrons in, they now advertise with the slogan: Smoke free or smoke freely.

A fair compromise that satisfies everybody but the zealots. And they're never satisfied anyway.

"I think we need to leave it to the casino industry right now to decide what’s best for their industry.”

That's the crux of it. Unless there they were victims of a phenomenal information failure, casino operators wouldn't fight smoking bans tooth and nail unless they knew it was going to hurt them. The fact that they have to be forced into it tells you everything you need to know.

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