Opinion: Nevada casinos cannot voluntarily go smoke-free, especially now By Jeffrey Compton, CDC Gaming Reports May 30, 2020 at 6:39 pm I have never smoked. I don’t allow smoking in my home or my car. As a frequent single diner, I prefer eating a meal at a bar over sitting alone at a table, but I avoid bars that permit smoking. I’ve lost many people close to me to smoking-related illnesses, including my only sibling, Bill Compton, in 2007. I dislike smoking intensely! But I do know that Nevada casinos cannot voluntarily go smoke-free, especially now. On Friday, CDC Gaming Reports ran Mark Gruetze’s sincere, well-written commentary, “Casinos need to take one more step to protect customers, employees,” which strongly advocated for casinos banning this activity, in which only 13.7% of Americans engage. Doing so would protect both the non-smoking players and the casino staff, especially dealers. Included in the commentary was a link to a list of more than 30 casinos that have announced plans to ban smoking when they reopen; according to Mark, the 30 will be “joining 800 other gaming venues that are already smoke-free because of state or local law or operator choice.” A quick scan of the list shows that none of the 30 casinos is located in Nevada and I’m willing to bet that less than 2% of the “other gaming venues” are located in the Silver State. The Nevada casino industry is no more endeared to smoking than I am. I’m sure they’re out there, but I can’t think of one casino executive I know who smokes. Customers can no longer light up in casino restaurants, in most of the hotel rooms, in the showrooms, in the spa, or even by the pool. Casinos spend a great deal of money cleaning up after smokers and several casino executives have told me that if a national law banning smoking in all bars, restaurants, and casinos (including tribal casinos), they would not fight it. However, the current makeup of the Nevada casino customer base (especially locals), plus local competition, totally prevents any Silver State casino from making that decision. I do not question the 13.7% smoking figure (and Nevada’s statistics run about 15%), but a personal scan of casino floors show that smokers make up 35%-50% of the player population — and I’ve gotten the same estimate from several casino executives, as well as from Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor. And to that figure, we should add whoever is accompanying the smoker to the casino. Especially when casinos are desperately trying to bring players back to the floor is not the time to present new rules that would make even 10% of patrons feeling unwelcome, much less 35%-50%. There is another concern. Unlike almost every other state, Nevada offers another venue (in fact, 1,000+ other venues) that welcomes players who want to smoke and play: the neighborhood bar. I live in a sparsely populated area of Las Vegas (there is a large park across from my home) and within walking distance of my home are four bars that offer 24/7 drinks, limited food, and machine gaming to smokers. Three guesses what they make their money on. Hint: It ain’t selling the booze. Whichever of the Nevada casinos voluntarily go smoke-free, they would quickly lose a good percentage of their players. Because the casinos offer looser games, more food selection, and better player benefits, these players make the trek to the larger casino, even though it’s a lot farther from where they live than the nearest bar. But they will not do so if they can’t smoke. The loss of these players would directly affect the very employees that smoke-less rules are recommended to protect. In 2006, state voters passed the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which banned smoking in all stores (including the limited-entry machine sections of grocery stores), restaurants, and bars that serve food. The result? Major slot route companies went under, as well as many small bars that chose food over smoking. After considerable wailing (and skirting of the law), the act was amended in 2011 to allow smoking in taverns that serve alcohol and food, as long as patrons under 21 are forbidden. The only examples I know of (most notably Silver City on the Strip two decades ago) to introduce a non-smoking casino in Las Vegas have failed. Several old-school casino executives will say that smoking and gambling run hand in hand; in addition, forcing a gambler to walk away from the machine or table to smoke only encourages him or her to stop playing. I don’t know how much of that is anecdotal, bordering on urban legend, but one of the CDC team (who hates being around smoking more than I do) did tell me that small Colorado casinos never did recover from a statewide smoking ban in 2008. In 1965, 42% of the American population smoked (unfortunately including my brother), but today only 14% of the population does. So we will hopefully see an end to the habit within the next 10-20 years. In the meantime, there are other options for Nevada casinos to consider, including better filtration systems and expanding non-smoking playing areas. But now is not the time to pressure Nevada casinos to go smoke-free.