While North Carolina legislators mull over a draft bill that would allow three (potentially four) new casinos in the state, the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Federation (ANRF) aims to keep those casinos nonsmoking establishments.
The agency, which advocates for smoke-free casinos, penned a letter to Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Timothy Moore last week, urging them to include language in the legislation to ensure casinos are smoke-free indoors.
Pushback against the petition for smoke-free casinos comes mainly from North Carolina’s tobacco industry, which for the longest time has worked to convince the gambling industry to fight against smoke-free casinos.
So far, the draft casino legislation has not specifically mentioned language that addresses smoking in casinos.
However, if such a policy is implemented, it begs the question of how it would impact North Carolina casinos economically.
Merits Of permitting indoor smoking
There are currently 27 states that allow commercial casinos and racinos. Of those, only 10 states fully prohibit indoor smoking.
The other 17 have casinos that offer patrons indoor smoking options in the form of partitions and enclosures.
Advocates for smoking in casinos have long argued that smoking and gambling are inextricably linked. And many casinos assert they can prove that smokers spend more money and time on gambling machines than nonsmokers do.
They oppose smoke-free workplaces on the grounds that such environments hurt gambling revenue, and they instead promote ventilation as a solution to second-hand smoke.
Furthermore, casinos in favor of indoor smoking worry they’ll lose clientele to neighboring facilities that do offer smoking environments.
In the case of North Carolina, if lawmakers opt to make commercial casinos smoke-free, North Carolinians who like to light up while gambling can drive up to the newly opened casino in Danville, Virginia, where they’ll be welcome.
Of course, being at a competitive disadvantage to neighboring casinos could lead to lower profit margins, potentially causing layoffs, which in turn could negatively impact the community at large.
Tax revenues could also begin to dwindle.
Another reason why some casinos remain among the last venues to still allow smoking indoors is that other consumers tend to tolerate it.
Nonsmokers who visit casinos where smoking is permitted understand the risks they are taking, but they offset those risks with the chance of winning some money.
The Campaign To Make NC Casinos Smoke-Free
The ANRF’s letter to Moore and Berger attacked those claims head while stressing the various dangers of indoor smoking.
The letter underscored the risks casino employees face working in an indoor environment where smoking is permitted.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is an occupational hazard for many casino workers and should be considered a serious health concern.
In light of this, Cynthia Hallett, president of ANRF and author of the letter, advised the legislators not to fall for the argument the casino lobby would inevitably make, namely that a complete indoor smoking ban would negatively impact revenue.
To bolster her claim, Hallett referenced North Carolina’s three tribal casinos – Harrah’s Cherokee, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, and Catawba Two Kings Casino – which have all been smoke-free for several years now, yet none have reported significant losses in revenue.
A research brief released by the Las Vegas-based firm, C3 Gaming last year appears to concur with Hallett’s assertion. The 30-page report which evaluates post-pandemic non-smoking trends in U.S. casinos, directly rebuts the claim that a smoke ban would eat into gaming revenue.
According to the study, casinos that did implement a smoking prohibition after the pandemic did not experience a decline in revenue or a loss in market share to neighboring casinos with smoking options.
Changing Attitudes Toward Smoking in Casinos
It appears COVID-19 brought about a significant change in consumer attitudes toward smoking in casinos. Whereas, before smoking went hand in glove with gambling, both consumers and casino operators are coming around to the idea of completely smoke-free establishments.
In fact, in some parts of the country, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.
That in part is because before the pandemic, non-smokers tended to tolerate smoke-filled casinos, now there’s a decrease in players’ tolerance of smoking in the gaming environment.
A gambling survey presented at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) 2021 Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention highlighted that nearly 8 out of 10 players preferred to play in a nonsmoking environment even if they identified as a smoker.
Also, interviews with tribal casino executives revealed that profitability was once again on the rise due to lower maintenance costs. After COVID-19, 157 tribes were able to push smoking out of their casinos without economic costs.
North Carolina has 100% smoke-free laws covering restaurants and bars. Casinos are not included under the law; however, given the evidence that smoking bans don’t hurt casino revenue, there’s a chance they could be.