Tribal gaming operators enforcing smoke bans may soon pull ahead financially in the COVID-19 fallout, branding themselves as more health-oriented casinos.
Tribal Casinos Snuff Out Smoking on the Casino Floor
Ushering in a slew of health and safety measures in casinos may have seemedwhile counter-intuitive, but business is finally waking up to the realization that it might actually be better for the bottom line. This is what Clinton Isham, a tribal gaming consultant for the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation believes is happening right now.
Specifically, the ban on smoking may have inadvertently turned casinos into a great destination for Baby Boomers and Millennials who are the least smoking generations in the United States to date. Put another way, Isham argued, that is what customers want and expect.
Speaking at the National Indian Gaming Association “New Normal” Webinar, Isham addressed the issues casinos were facing and how the urgent necessity to adapt could actually be an opportunity to push business forward. The webinar was attended by a number of tribal gaming executives, including Rodney Butler, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal National chairman and NIGA executive director, Jason Giles.
All panelists agreed that the tribes’ decision to reopen their casinos without reintroducing smoking has affected their reputation and commercial operations positively, allowing them to reopen ahead of most commercial properties in the country.
Comparing numbers prior and post the COVID-19 lockdown, Isham noted that only five casinos before the lockdown were non-smoking. Now, 150 out of 500 tribal casinos enforced a smoking ban. While the smoking floor posted one win on average more every 30 minutes, the non-smoking policy is expected to stay after the pandemic has been dealt with.
How Good Is a Smoke Ban for Business?
Giles pitched in arguing that finding good employees who were willing to work in a smoking environment were fewer these days, with many Millennials citing second-hand smoke as a genuine health concern.
The only reason why tribal casinos plan on discontinuing the non-smoking policy, though, Giles cautioned, is if patrons fail to turn up directly because of the smoke ban on the casino floor. With revenue in the second quarter dropping 78.8%, tribal and commercial operators have a lot of catching up to do.
However, Isham noted that Rewards Clubs members who played in the smoke-free areas tended to play longer and contribute more to the casinos’ bottom floor, putting a previous notion that smoking customers paid more. Isham also partially dismissed the idea that gamblers would fail to come if a smoke ban were in place:
“People don’t go to casinos to smoke cigarettes. They go there to gamble. So regardless, they’ll always come to the casinos.”
Isham believed that tribal casinos have a lot to offer and they are yet to set policies that will help shape the entire narrative of how to do good business on the casino floor.
He reminded that the ability of tribal casinos to beat commercial counterparts to the punch was because they were willing to enact the necessary health policies at the time while others second-guessed them.