Missouri is locked in a debate over the possibility of a statewide smoking ban. And like in Iowa, casinos are in the middle.
They’re armed with lots of numbers, according to AP:
Smokers account for only about one-fifth of a casino’s patrons, according to a University of Nevada-Reno study last year. But year-end industry numbers suggest that losing those gamblers _ or making them get up from their machines to go outside to smoke _ is having a crushing financial impact where smoking in casinos is banned.
A smoking ban at Atlantic City casinos was lifted late last year after slot machine revenues dropped nearly 20 percent in the first two weeks after the ban took effect. In Pennsylvania, which had allowed smoking on 25 percent of casino floors, the limit was raised to 50 percent after casinos showed that slots in the smoking areas made more than twice as much money as those in nonsmoking areas.
Illinois’ gambling revenues fell almost 21 percent _ about $415 million _ last year, according to the American Gaming Association. The result was a drop of $177 million in taxes paid to the state, with jurisdictions where the casinos are located losing $22.6 million.
Colorado banned smoking on the same day as Illinois. And with a gambling revenue drop of 12.3 percent _ about $100 million _ Colorado also joined Illinois as the only other state with a double-digit decline in 2008.
Meanwhile, casinos in all three states that border Illinois saw increased gambling revenues, led by Missouri with a 5.66 percent jump. Iowa gambling revenues rose 4.14 percent, and Indiana casinos saw a 1.65 percent increase.
So it’s no surprise that Iowa legislative leaders want to leave the smoking ban, and its casino gaming floor exemption, alone this year. They simply can’t take the risk that lawmakers will vote to scrap the exemption.
They need the money, bad. For one thing, Gov. Culver’s $700 million rebuild Iowa bonding fund depends on a steady flow of casino cash.
And if you’re a casino worker who wants to breathe smoke-free air, tough. Hire a lobbyist. Better be a good one.