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The Final Frontier

It’s clear now that a smoking ban can actually help a casino attract customers, while keeping its employees healthy and safe.

The Final Frontier

It seems to me that if your company has enough CSR, you probably don’t need as much CRM. But everyone needs ESG, no matter what.

If it seems like alphabet soup to you, they are all major tenets of the industry. Corporate social responsibility is a measurement of how a company interacts with the community in positive ways. Customer relationship marketing is how you build a database of loyal customers by giving them what they want when they want it. And environmental, social and governance gauges a company’s impact on the environment, its diversity initiatives, investment in the community and responsible leadership.

These are all efforts by the industry to improve its image, which over the years has not been stellar—from the early days of scurrilous operators to the spread of legal gaming when it was bashed by supposed “academics” whose only goal was to squash the industry. The founding of the American Gaming Association in the early ’90s was a turning point, and today the efforts by the group have been very effective in reversing the reputation of the industry.

But one step remains.

Under all these acronyms, the customers and employees are front and center. The way a casino company treats them is the bedrock of any reputation. There are dozens of programs that emphasize the importance of employees (or team members, if you will) to the success of an enterprise. How you treat your employees is often reflected in how they treat your customers. And any company would want to avoid doing anything that would threaten the health and well-being of members of either of these important groups.

Yet that’s exactly what the industry is doing when it continues to condone smoking inside a casino. In what is now the only public space that permits indoor smoking in society, the casino can become deadly. It doesn’t really matter if a casino has a non-smoking section or if powerful air handlers filter the air. The message is the same. “We don’t care about your health more than we care about the bottom line.”

The argument that smoking must be allowed to continue or the casino will lose so much money it will be forced to fire workers no longer holds water.

In an exclusive article (ggbnews.com/article/numbers-dont-lie/) provided to GGB by two of the most respected gaming analysts, Andrew Klebanow and Gerard Parisi—both principals in the consulting group C3—it now appears that casinos that ban smoking actually increase business rather than lose business. The data that supported the pro-smoking talking points was at the minimum seven years old, and often was compiled more than a decade ago. The data presented by C3 represents up-to-the-minute revenue numbers comparing casinos that once permitted smoking and then banned it following the pandemic.

It’s clear now that a smoking ban can actually help a casino attract customers. There was little or no decline from the pre- to post-smoking ban periods, and in fact a small increase in most cases. And when compared to casinos that still allow smoking, the non-smoking casinos came out ahead.

The data is built on a survey conducted by the late, great Mike Meczka, presented at the Indian Gaming conference in 2021. A survey of casino customers in the Pacific Northwest showed that after “location, proximate to one’s home” (32 percent) the next biggest criterion for players to choose a casino was “smoking is not allowed,” at 26 percent.

The “smoking is allowed” was cited by only 4 percent as an important criterion. Tribal casinos are to be recognized as the prime mover behind smoking bans, as more than 160 Indian casinos have now banned smoking.

So, there is no more justification for continuing to allow smoking in casinos. Even the argument that the casino across town that allows smoking will steal my customers doesn’t hold up. It’s clearly in the casino industry’s best interest to join the rest of society and ban smoking.

This doesn’t mean you can’t cater to your remaining smokers, even though only 12.5 percent of the population still smokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Set up outdoor smoking lounges with slot machines. As long as there are direct outlets to fresh air and the area is clearly designated as a smoking lounge, most regulators have approved those kinds of facilities.

Under that alphabet soup of programs, the industry has taken huge steps to reform and upgrade its image. Let’s take that last step and demonstrate that we care about our employees, our customers and our shareholders.

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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