The topic of cigarette smoking is polarizing and the subject of when and where a smoker can light up continues to be hotly debated. The casino industry is well aware of the sensitive nature of smoking and has fought to resist calls to turn off the indoor smoking lamp completely. However, a transformation is taking place regardless, as witnessed in gambling cities such as Macau that have implemented strict anti-smoking rules. Elsewhere, changes are coming, even if they’re not being forced. Across the US, casinos are going smoke-free, but many are doing so under the radar, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a springboard for change.
Number of US Smoke-free Casinos on the Rise
Commercial and tribal casinos across the US are going smoke-free since they reopened following the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, CNN pointed to findings from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that showed that all of Atlantic City’s casinos have taken no-smoking approaches and that there are more than 200 gambling properties that have adopted similar policies as they began to emerge from the pandemic lockdowns. The CDC’s own Office on Smoking and Health (OSH) provided the findings.
Brian King of the OSH explains, “The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in smoke-free casino adoption, which is certainly a silver lining in the context of the pandemic… Seeing that implementation of a broad public health policy in this environment at the state level of a major hub for gambling and casinos is very important. It’s definitely a public health win and shows an added benefit of not only protecting workers but also patrons.”
Smoking Bans Don’t Cause Revenue Drops
The casino industry has been trying to avoid cutting off smokers due to fear that the segment might stop visiting casino floors. However, that theory hasn’t been substantiated by concrete results. Rege Behe of CDC Gaming Reports emphasizes the growth of the Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison casino in Wisconsin as an example. The property went smoke-free in 2015, yet it has seen “record revenue numbers” for the past three years, according to the casino’s executive manager, Dan Brown.
Ho-Chunk took a look at its demographics before implementing the smoking ban, determining that only a small percentage of its customers were smokers. That made it easier to go smoke-free and Brown adds, “We have to be looking to the future and what kind of market are we going to try to cultivate. At the time we enacted the ban, the millennials were the hot ticket, and that’s an active group, they’re outdoors doing things, they’re into healthy lifestyles. It was a very conscious decision to be sure that we keep them in mind in terms of tomorrow’s market segment.”
Casino Smoking Bans the New Norm
Proponents of the casino smoking bans point to the fact that designated smoking areas might help some gamblers, but not the casino employees who have to work those areas. They also assert that second-hand smoke continues to be a problem, even if air purifiers are used, and believe that smoking bans might also help prevent another battle with COVID-19. Campaigns by the nonprofit Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) has been lobbying government officials for indoor smoking bans and are reportedly gathering more support.
A survey conducted by the ANR in collaboration with BC Slots founder Brian Christopher found that 70% of casino goers are bothered by cigarette smoke and 95% acknowledge that it’s a health hazard. Even smokers are supportive of a ban, with 88% of the survey respondents indicating they would visit a non-smoking casino over a smoking one, as long as the property offered an outdoor area for smoking.