IGA Tradeshow: Non-smokers can thank Mike Meczka for smoke-free casinos Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports · April 22, 2022 at 4:40 pm At the 2021 NIGA Tradeshow in Las Vegas, consultant Mike Meczka spoke determinedly about his distaste for smoking in casinos. His company, Meczka Marketing Research Consulting, had surveyed 1,500 casino patrons about their attitudes toward smoking. The result can be summed up in one of Meczka’s trademark sayings: It’s not the smoking, it’s the gambling, stupid! Approximately 79% of survey respondents were in favor of banning smoking in casinos. Meczka passed away shortly after his NIGA appearance last year at the age of 77. But his legacy was honored Wednesday at this year’s tradeshow during the session “A Tribute to Michael Meczka: The Non-Smoking Casino.” Citing Mezcka’s research, session moderator Andrew Klebanow of C3 Gaming (Casino Consultants Consortium) said the evidence is clear: Casinos need not fear banning smoking from their premises. And Ttribal operators agree with Meczka’s research, with 168 properties going smoke-free in the last year. “We know that while casino operators heard complaints from vocal customers, revenues quickly normalized,” Klebanow said, noting that pandemic health concerns made it easier for operators to implement smoking bans. Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison in Wisconsin was ahead of the wave, going smoke-free in 2014. The casino, under the direction of Executive Manager Dan Brown, implemented the ban after 70% of its guests said they’d stay longer and gamble more if there were better indoor air quality. “It went against the old way of thinking that smoking and gambling go hand in hand,” said Ho-Chunk Municipal Relations Coordinator Missy Tracy. Revenue plummeted for the first 90 days of the smoking ban. But Brown was adamant that Ho-Chunk stay the course and after 15 months, revenue rebounded. Tracy said in the eight years since the casino went smoke-free, there have been only two years of negative financial impact: the first year, then in 2020 when the pandemic struck. “We were ahead of the game,” Tracy said, noting that Ho-Chunk employees have reduced absenteeism and doctor visits and are noticeably happier at work. Klebanow noted that casinos in search of employees might do well to consider smoking bans. “It’s kind of hard to find employees these days,” Klebanow said. “And if your property is competing for people who can work in a Walmart or the store down the road and they’re paying a competitive rate of $15-$16 per hour to work in a completely non-smoking environment, it’s gotten pretty hard to convince people to work in a casino.” One of Meczka’s greatest legacies is in North Carolina, where smoking has long been culturally embedded due to its proximity to the tobacco belt. Despite that history, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians banned smoking at its two North Carolina properties when they re-opened for business in May 2020 after being closed due to the pandemic. ECBI Associate Attorney General Chris Siewers admitted that the tribal council was initially reluctant to go smoke free; then they took a hard look at the data supplied by Meczka. The ban initially caused angry smokers to write Facebook posts declaring they’d never come back. “The data presented by Mr. Meczka proved that to be wrong,” Siewers said. “People will continue to come. They’ll go to the casino that’s closest to them.” Siewers said the ECBI immediately noticed reduced costs. Cleaning the properties became less expensive. Upholstery that used to suffer damage from cigarettes butts no longer had to be repaired. Slot machines were no longer gummed up by cigarette ash. While the ECBI doesn’t release financial data, Siewers said that its latest per-capita-distribution announcement, released in December 2021, noted that distribution was up 22.5 percent for the previous six months compared to the last six months of 2019. Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.