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Enough Already!

It's time to make casinos smoke-free. The health risk to employees and customers far outweighs any setbacks the casinos may suffer.

Enough Already!

When I was growing up, it was considered cool to smoke. My father smoked his entire life—unfiltered Chesterfields—and I never thought of him as cool (although he turned out to be quite cool), so smoking was something I didn’t plan on doing. He knew that smoking was bad, however, and offered me $500 when I turned 18 if I didn’t smoke.

It also helped that the group of kids that I hung out with didn’t smoke, so I used my $500 to buy my first car, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Not smoking can be quite profitable.

So not smoking wasn’t something that was a challenge for me, I just didn’t like it. But I never looked down at people who did smoke. It’s their body, their choice, I figured.

But when I started my career in gaming as a dealer at Caesars Atlantic City, their choice invaded my body. Working five or six days a week, nine or 10 hours a night, I must have inhaled a pack a day, especially from those lovely players who relished blowing smoke in your face when you beat them with a six-card 21.

When I became a baccarat dealer, it was even worse because the dealers were standing above the players (dealing on a “big,” 14-player bacc game at the time). Smoke filtered up into our faces, and even more disgusting were the many bacc players who smoked stinky cigars!

So it was a red-letter day in my life when I dealt my last casino game and was able to escape the smoke.

That’s why I can empathize so strongly with the group of the brave Atlantic City dealers that have organized to support a law that bans smoking in casinos completely. Of course, I get the objections that the casinos have—revenue will decrease, players will spend more time away from the games in smoking sections, and jobs will potentially be lost.

But we’ve heard this song for years and data now shows that the revenue loss is temporary and sometimes even non-existent. And smart casino executives can prepare for the inevitable.

I visited with my friend Mark Birtha when he was running the Hard Rock Northfield casino (now MGM Northfield). Indoor smoking is banned in Ohio, so Hard Rock developed an outdoor slot area, with a roof and walls that were open about 3 feet under the roof. Mark told me that the machines on the smoking terrace won triple what the machines won on the main floor. Live! Casino in Maryland did the same thing with similar results.

It was 1964 when the Surgeon General’s Office in the U.S. drew the link between secondhand smoke and cancer. So how can it be almost 60 years later and casinos haven’t really accepted this study? Are they content to continue to risk the health of their employees and customers?

There are lots of studies demonstrating that the majority of casino players prefer a smoke-free environment. There is no place else in society where you are still permitted to smoke indoors, so even those who enjoy smoking while gambling will understand a smoking ban.

More importantly, if all casinos go smoke-free, the impact will be far less than if they do it one at a time or one jurisdiction at a time.

If Atlantic City casinos ban smoking, but Pennsylvania casinos do not, the impact will hurt the Boardwalk joints. But in fact, there are two Philadelphia-area casinos—Parx and Live! Philly—that have “temporarily” suspended smoking, and guess what? Their revenues have increased during this time! Why don’t New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators join together and simultaneously ban smoking? Since New York, Ohio and Maryland casinos already prohibit smoking, players in these states will be forced to fly to Vegas to satisfy their smoking jones.

Even better, perhaps the American Gaming Association can proactively encourage all its member casinos to ban smoking at the same time. What a service to the employees and customers this would be! And the impact would be minimal, with a possible positive result bring increased revenue from non-smoking players who might return.

Come on, my executive friends. I’ve heard you complain about how smokers actually cost your casino money by forcing the installation of heavy-duty air handling machines, frequent replacement of felt on the tables, holes in the upholstery from cigarette burns, and increased cleaning costs to rid the casino of the stench and filth of tobacco use. It’s time to do something about it. Make it happen!

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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