One event that renewed this debate was the Covid-19 pandemic. In the vast majority of states, as a result of either mask mandates or properties choosing for its patrons to wear masks before the vaccines started to roll out, many casinos properties that were formerly smoking went non-smoking for a time. That was certainly the case in destinations such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and in the case of Atlantic City, actually extended well into the 2021 calendar year.
Prior to that, smoking, drinking and land casino gambling had always kind of went hand in hand in hand. According to the CDC, however, from 2005 until 2020, the percentage of adults that smoked, at least cigarettes, has dropped by more than 8% down to 12.5%.
On the one hand, non-smokers would want to know, “Why shouldn’t there be laws that prevent people from smoking inside of casinos when only one in eight adults would be impacted.”
Okay, that’s a superficially fair argument, but if we extended that argument to include everything regarding what a minority percentage of citizens can do or not do, and codify any such restrictions into law, then…uh…let’s just say some of the social progress we have made as a nation over the last few decades never would have happened!
For that reason, I think that particular line of argument loses merit on its face. Besides that, one could always retort with the old, “Just because you CAN do it doesn’t mean that YOU have to,” which is the same line of argument that some of the people who would promote the positive social changes that we have seen, and which will go unnamed, would use.
The fact of the matter is this: If smoking continues to decline in popularity, not counting vaping, as it has, then eventually casinos will simply go non-smoking totally on their own, or in the alternative, will eventually restrict people who want to smoke to the small areas of the casino that were once reserved for adamant non-smokers. In the meantime, however, right or wrong, the casinos seem to think it wouldn’t be in their best interests.
I stand on the side of letting the businesses make the decision, and if consumers vote with their wallets and let the businesses (casinos) know why they are voting that way, then the casinos that do presently allow smoking might eliminate or restrict indoor smoking. In the meantime, there are points and arguments to be made on both sides, so while this will have something of a business autonomy lean, admittedly, I do hope to address both sides.
SECONDHAND SMOKE EXPOSURE
Many folks on the, “Governments should force the casinos to go non-smoking side,” and face it, they ARE asking state governments to do that rather than the businesses organically doing it of their own accord, argue that it is unfair that people be exposed to second-hand smoke.
I tend to think that this argument lacks merit for a fundamentally simple reason: Nobody is forcing anyone to go into a casino and gamble. Increasingly, states across the country are legalizing and opening online casinos, which have better returning games (especially slots and VP) anyway, so it’s not like you can’t gamble.
Even if you live in a state that doesn’t have state authorized online commercial casinos, we have a wide variety of affiliates to choose from, some of which you can see right here on our main page!
With that, gambling in a smoke-free environment is not a fundamental right that is guaranteed to people by the U.S. Constitution, or anything like that. Even if it were such a right, then you can gamble online and, as long as nobody smokes in your residence, you will be gambling in a smoke-free environment.
Yeah, yeah, many people like top bemoan the poor employees who were forced at gunpoint, of course, to apply for casino jobs, go to interviews, be offered those jobs and accept them. Imagine their shock and dismay when they showed up for the first day of work only to discover that there is indoor smoking in a place where they knew there would be indoor smoking!
When it comes to most people, I would say that they don’t actually care about the employees’ health to the extent that they claim. Besides, some of the employees are probably smokers. As far as non-employee non-smoking casino goers are concerned, it doesn’t surprise me that they would feign an interest in the employees’ exposure to secondhand smoke to achieve their ultimate end of getting state Governments to ban smoking in casinos for their own comfort.
Much like the non-smoking patrons, nobody ever forced the employees to work in the casinos. As far as I know, they can quit whenever they want to.
It’s also important to note that many casino operations are nowhere near where smoking is allowed, which is usually restricted to smoking rooms (if applicable) as well as to the casino floor. The one thing that I would say is that, if an employee finds themselves with health concerns that they didn’t have upon taking the casino floor job, then the casino should move them to a department where there is no smoking, or perhaps like the hotel desk or one of the casino’s restaurants, they are a reasonable distance away from the smoking that is taking place.
NOT THAT MANY PEOPLE SMOKE THOUGH!!!
We kind of covered this in the introduction, but it is correct that some 12.5% of Americans smoke and this number seems to be ever declining. I would also say state governments have a hand in that as smoking related taxes are one of the first things that the states go to in order to get an annual tax bump. More than that, there have been recent restrictions on certain flavored cigarettes and it looks like the menthol ban might even eventually go through.
With that, it would certainly seem as though the Government(s) is doing everything that they can to at least dissuade people from smoking.
Beyond that, many people in the casino industry seem to think most of the patrons are smokers. This report is extremely dated, but at a time that just over 20% of Americans were smokers, casino industry executives believed that the percentage of casino patrons who smoked was much closer to 70%. An independent study was conducted and it was revealed that, in fact, the percentage of smokers in major casinos was roughly on par with that of the American public, at-large.
Even with that, there are almost certainly casino executives remaining who would believe in this 70% figure. I think some of it also depends on when they are doing the survey, which the industry might have timed to yield the highest possible percentage of smokers. There was a saying in some of the bars where I grew up, “At closing time, everyone becomes a smoker.”
I would say that my casino experience is much the same. I think there is definitely a higher percentage of those on the casino floor smoking when the midnight oil is being burnt as compared to more reasonable times of the day. That said, the presence of smoke in casinos, whether the adamant non-smokers are willing to admit it or not, certainly does not seem to change their gambling habits to a huge degree.
I also tend to think that smokers might represent some of the more profitable customers for the casinos, especially if they happen to be high-rollers. The psychological effects of both smoking and gambling, the dopamine rush, are somewhat similar, so it’s possible that smokers tend to be heavier gamblers, especially when it comes to machine players.
And, again, these are just my observations mostly of semi-rural casinos. One observation that the study found was that the percentage of smokers in rural casinos was a bit higher, at more than 36%, which is about 80% (relative to 20%) over the national average at that time.
If those percentages hold basically true, then you’d end up with more than 20% smokers in smaller rural and semi-rural casinos to this day, which I would say is basically in line with my empirical observations.
Of course, it’s also relevant to point out that a greater percentage of those who live in rural areas smoke as compared to the national average. State averages remain around 20% smokers for much of the Midwest and South, for example.
Of course, not all of those states have casinos, but of those that do, you would expect to see something around the 2005 figures that were observed in the report that we linked earlier. In other words, probably more than 30% smokers.
Except in states such as Ohio, for example, in which all indoor smoking (including casinos) is illegal.
CASINOS HAVE OPTIONS
Speaking of Ohio, and other blanket non-smoking states, such as Maryland, the casinos do have options available to them. In some casinos in those states there is usually a small enclosed area, that is legally outside, in which smoking is allowed. You won’t find any Table Games in those areas that I have ever seen, at least, not in those states, but some of those smoking areas do have a handful of slot machines.
Another option is something that Mountaineer Resort (Ha!) and Casino in West Virginia implemented when the county took away its exemption—it made a huge smoking area that was, in fact, outside (just covered) and they put slots and Table Games out there! In fact, it might have been a fourth of the size as the casino floor on the inside and sometimes had just as many Table Games open, if you would believe it!
Eventually, Mountaineer would seem to get the exemption back, so the smoking moved back indoors.
It’s also worth noting that most casinos could not use the same solution as they simply wouldn’t have the outdoor and ground level space that Mountaineer had available to it. On the other hand, maybe some of the destination casinos with large parking garages could devote a level, or half of a level, to smoking if they wanted to do so. That would be kind of interesting, I guess, gambling without technically ever entering the casino proper!
Anyway, those are options that might be available. Another option, if the Governments (blah!) are going to step in and do something, would be to require casinos to have a separate area for smokers, off of the main floor, and require that the smokers go through two separate doorways in order to get to said smoking area. You could even set it up such that both doors cannot be open at the same time, if the state wants to be especially nitty about it.
Anyway, solutions become relevant if any of that actually comes to fruition, so let’s get back to the arguments.
WHY DON’T ALL THE STATES JUST BAN IT!!!???
One thing to note about the states with non-smoking casinos is that, as far as I can tell, those states had indoor smoking bans that actually predate the legalization of the casinos. In other words, you couldn’t, “Grandfather in,” the casinos, as some states have, because they did not yet exist.
I think it’s also the reason that a great many casinos have been loathe to try blanket smoking bans in states for which the existence of the casinos predates any smoking bans, if applicable. Customers simply visit these casinos with the expectation that they will be able to smoke inside.
Even if a lower percentage of Nevada’s casino patrons happened to be smokers, which you would have a hard time convincing me on, I simply don’t think Vegas casinos are going to want to go fully non-smoking and risk alienating those people. If the entire area went non-smoking, then I am convinced that Vegas tourism would suffer as a result. The reason for that is that many visitors to the State of Nevada are coming from in or around states where you can presently smoke in casinos. If they go to the LV Strip and suddenly all casinos are non-smoking, then I could see them saying, “You know what, I’ll just do all my gambling in my area if they don’t want me!”
With that, I think the expectation of smoking kind of comes into play a little bit.
Another thing that I would note is that many Native American casinos have gone non-smoking, but those often tend not to be right next door to other casino properties that do allow it.
One thing that would be nice, and might convince many casinos to go non-smoking of their own accord, would be if a casino in a densely populated (by concentration of casinos) market went totally non-smoking and just blew it through the roof with their numbers!
For example, many restaurants (in states with indoor bans) went non-smoking before the bans were put in place, but it would seem that they didn’t do remarkably better than restaurants with smoking sections, otherwise all restaurants would have gone non-smoking, and there would have been no need for state governments to implement any restrictions in that regard.
With that, non-smoking could represent a competitive advantage if you can find a market of non-smokers who WILL actually make their decisions (at least, mainly) on a place restricting smoking. However, if revenues decline or there is no meaningful change, then I would suggest that would compel other casinos not to follow suit.
The casino in a major market that went the longest with absolutely zero smoking that I am aware of is the former Revel (now Ocean Resort) in Atlantic City. Of course, the current casino inhabiting that property now allows smoking and not allowing smoking was perceived as one of Revel’s many mistakes.
For that reason, Revel is probably not the expectation for what would happen as that property’s entire lifecycle was a comedy of errors.
The casino would finally open its doors under a crushing debt load, so as a result, it needed to run profitably from the word, “Go,” as an overall entity, to even be able to meet its burdensome debt obligations. Not only did the property not make enough money to meet those same obligations, but worse, the casino side operations (taken alone) couldn’t even operate at a profit. Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” does not approve.
In addition to the very questionable call of opening as a non-smoking property, former CEO of the defunct company, Kevin DeSanctis, also decided that buffets were, “Mass feederies,” so he would not lower his high-roller destination to catering to the masses.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic really changed the public’s perception of buffets (in general) and has changed the landscape for casino buffets across the country, with any number of casino buffets closing to never reopen, or, at least, they haven’t reopened yet.
Some of the more popular Las Vegas ones have since opened back up, but in the regional casinos, many remain closed. Of those that did reopen anywhere, for the most part, the operating days/hours seem to not be what they once were.
At the time of Revel’s opening, however, you couldn’t have a destination casino without a buffet. The very concept was laughable, except to Kevin DeSanctis, but perhaps he was just that far ahead of his time.
The other thing that DeSanctis did is all but said, and treated, low and moderate rolling gamblers as if they were worthless. Neither he nor the casino made any secret about the fact that they intended to attract a high-profile, high-limit, clientele, and if you didn’t belong to that category of gamblers, then they really didn’t care if you visited the property or not.
It was with those things that people did not visit the Revel. Borgata remained, and still remains, the premier casino in Atlantic City for those with a healthy gambling budget who are seeking a somewhat more refined, at least aesthetically and in restaurant selection, experience.
In other words, Revel could only be doomed from the start, so I would think any advocates of casinos being continued to allow smoking pointing at the Revel as an example of, “Why not,” aren’t really making a great argument. Revel is an example of, “Why not,” a lot of things. If the casino had opened under an otherwise manageable debt load, hadn’t been so arrogant in its treatment of all but the highest rollers and hadn’t been too good to offer a buffet, but still crash and burned, then maybe you could point to the non-smoking as a problem.
BUT, OTHER STATES…
Other states me nothing.
Let’s go take a little trip to Columbus, Ohio, which has Hollywood Casino Columbus and Scioto Downs Racino. Again, the state makes it so that those entities aren’t allowed to have indoor smoking, but both of those entities have the it’s technically outside smoking areas.
Further, as I have already mentioned, the ban was in place when those casinos opened. There had been an indoor smoking ban in Ohio long before that, and even a workplace smoking ban (unless outside and x feet from a door), so a property to be non-smoking is and has been the expectation prior to those casinos opening.
More than that, if you’re in Columbus, Ohio and you wanted to make a casino choice based on your ability to smoke, then I hope you enjoy your drive of more than two hours as that is how long it will take you, literally, to get to another state…much less a casino in that state. I guess the closest one to Columbus with smoking is probably Wheeling Island Casino Hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia, as soon as you cross the bridge between states, you’re almost on top of the casino already. Indiana and Michigan would be further away, so I think that’s the one.
As a result, I would hardly consider non-smoking casinos doing well in areas where:
A.) Smoking is not permitted in casinos.
B.) Are nowhere near any casinos that allow smoking.
Hardly proof of concept.
On the other hand, if non-smokers who are so vociferously against the disgusting vice of smoking that they don’t want people to do it in casinos still go to casinos, one could argue that the states with non-smoking casinos that do well proves the concept that smokers will, similarly, go to non-smoking casinos to gamble.
On the other hand, perhaps those casinos would be doing even better if they were permitted to have smoking on the main floor. Unfortunately, there’s really no way of knowing for sure.
Hell, when the mask mandates were in place, some casinos had it such that you could only have your mask down if you were actively eating, drinking, or smoking!!! Wheeling Island was one such casino. Of course, some of them are chain smokers, so I think they went pretty much their entire casino visit without ever having their masks up!
I’m going to get political because we are in the articles section and we are talking about casinos, so it’s allowed.
For my part, I am in favor of free association and as few Government mandated restrictions as possible. I’m never married to tradition, but in many states, smoking has been in allowed in casinos as long as there have been casinos.
Let’s really stretch the argument and say that the revenues for every single individual casino in the country would not drop, AT ALL, if they all snapped their fingers and went non-smoking. Naturally, that’s one of the reasons that the smoke-free advocates beseech the Government to do it, because otherwise, there is no way they would all try it at once.
That aside, let’s just say that it happened hypothetically and the revenues remained unchanged. Okay, so clearly the casinos made a mistake by allowing smoking and that mistake added to them on the cost side and had no positive impact on revenues, yes? I don’t think this could possibly be true of every casino in the country, but if it were, then it was their mistake to make.
As far as free association goes, that simply goes back to the fundamental point of, if you do not wish to be around cigarette smoke whatsoever, then just don’t go to casinos or anywhere else that allows indoor smoking. It’s not as if people can smoke in grocery stores or restaurants (in many states). In some jurisdictions, casinos are the ONE place where people are allowed to smoke indoors, so when that is the case, the non-smokers are basically advocating for the lone category of public indoor places where smokers can smoke be taken away from them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d still be less irritated with a mandate against casinos than I was with the occasional mandates against smoking in bars—which are totally ridiculous. For one thing, many bar/restaurants already were non-smoking, so this was unnecessary and arguably removed a competitive advantage from both smoking and non-smoking establishments, depending on the clientele to whom you wanted to cater. Those were ridiculous. To those non-smoking bar patrons who complained, “Why were you there? There were non-smoking bars. You could drink at home!”
It’s almost as though people are unhappy, and when some people are a little bit happy, there are other people out there who find their little bit of happiness insufferable, so they want to use the Government to remove that contentment, however minute it might be, at the earliest possible opportunity. That’s just a generalization that I would apply to both sides, depending on the thing in question, so I’m not taking one political side or the other, specifically.
It just seems that, in general, most people want to use the Government as a tool to legally enforce the way that they want things to be, without consideration for how others want things. I’d prefer the Government do nothing in these regards, and if I like what is going on at a place, then I will visit, if not, then I won’t.
Ultimately, I’m on the side of smokers to the extent that I don’t think the Governments should restrict smoking in casinos other than in those states in which casinos opened as non-smoking. If there are any smoking bans to be put in place, then I think those casinos where smoking is already permitted should be grandfathered in and exempt from the non-smoking laws for a period of no less than ten years.
In the meantime, should a casino open in a destination market, or go non-smoking of its own accord, then I am on the side of non-smokers in that I would like to see that casino do just as well as the others, or better. I have no desire to see a business fail in something that it is trying of its own free will and volition, so good luck to them if it gets tried in a major market again—they might need that luck.
The one thing that it will take for that to happen, of course, is for the non-smokers to visit in droves. I seriously doubt the smokers are going to spend much time there when the casino right next door allows smoking on the casino floor, so this hypothetical non-smoking casino is going to need all of the adamant non-smokers it can get. If the concept is proven that it can be done without detriment to revenue, then trust me, many other casinos would follow suit and, at that point, you will have plenty to choose from.