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Gambling/General : Smoking and Non-smoking Casinos

By Daniel Michaels

Level: Apr 27th 2007
The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act was approved by voters. It means that smoking will be banned in most public spaces. Only on casino floors, nightclubs and stand-alone bars without food service will smoking still be allowed.

When ask about the possibility of casinos turning into nonsmoking facilities, spokespersons from local gaming companies said that the companies will accept the writing on the wall, but will not force anyone to respect it. Others, like Spectrum Gaming Group gaming analyst Joseph Weinert, sustain that casinos will accept the act one day not so far because states are regulating the gaming jurisdiction.

Bill's Lake Tahoe promotes itself as "Tahoe's Only Non-Smoking Casino", even if it was not imposed by the law to stop smoking. But, this image of the casino was adopted mainly because of economic factors than health concerns. It’s a strategy to enliven the business. John Packer, spokesman for Harrah's Entertainment in Lake Tahoe, said that Bill's had been under pressure financially compared with the other two gaming properties owned in the Northern Nevada, Harrah's Lake Tahoe and Harveys Lake Tahoe.

Bill's is an 18,000 square feet casino establishment with a Subway sandwich shop, instead of a classy restaurant. To attract gamblers to the casino the management of the company allows smoking in special places and added single-deck blackjack, 20 times odds on craps and a piano bar. The number of visitors increased as a result of these changes, but the company didn't know if placing nonsmokers and smokers areas is the most obvious reason. Anyway, the company does not intend to apply these changes to other Harrah's Entertainment properties.

Chris Pritsos from University of Nevada, Reno made a study to find the percentage of smokers in casinos. His study revealed that one in five gamblers in Nevada smokes. Usually, the gaming lobbyists claim that a '70 percent of their clients smoke.

Pristos study implied more than 17,000 gamblers throughout the state from August 2006 through October 2006. The percentages of gamblers who smoke in the three locals surveyed are distributed like this: 21.5 percent of gamblers smoke in Las Vegas, 22.6 percent in Reno-Sparks and 17 percent in Lake Tahoe. Also, the study shows that, in Las Vegas casinos, at Strip properties almost 20 percent of gamblers are smokers while at off-Strip around 26 percent of gamblers are smokers.

Pristos believed that the percent of smokers would be somewhere between 30 and 40 and it is not exactly like this. Anyway, he is not concerned by the results because the study's figures are near the general United States population average of 20.9 percent.

His study caught the attention of the authority who asked for a copy, but from the gaming industry he didn’t received any demands. This study comes in a period when the country struggle with smoke-free casinos. The Illinois Senate approved an amendment against smoking in public places that would include also the riverboat gambling halls and racetracks. The proposal of introducing a three-year for the casinos and racetracks was not adopted. Also, Colorado lawmakers added an amendment which will extend the state smoking ban to casinos from 2008. Now the bill is waiting the consent of the House in order to be applied.

The casinos from Atlantic City have to conform to a new mandatory law that states 75 percent of the gaming floor to be nonsmoking. Harrah's Entertainment and Columbia Sussex Corp executives, who are building smoking lounges, are concerned that the law will reduce the number of customers. The smoking ban in casinos in one area is expected to move away customers which will go elsewhere to gamble and smoke. Most of the poker rooms and some bingo rooms in Las Vegas allow smoking in special area.

The owners of the casinos tried to escape smoking ban sustaining that their latest properties have state-of-the-art ventilation systems that minimize the effect of smoking clients on nonsmoking ones. But studies related to this problem reject such a claim. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning made public a paper which states that no current technologies prevent risks from environmental tobacco smoke. Only restrictions on smoking can control the diseases caused by tobacco.

It is expected that Nevada will accept the restrictions later because gaming industry is one of the largest market here relative to any other industry. And, before including special area for smokers and nonsmokers, they have to follow the established budget for this year.
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