NIGA panel affirms short-term hit, but long-term gain, from non-smoking policies Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports · July 21, 2021 at 2:15 pm Just after Terry Savage decided that two tribal casinos in Minnesota, Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton and Fond-du-Luth Casino in Duluth, would go non-smoking due to the COVID pandemic, he heard from a few customers. The Executive Director of Tribal Enterprises for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa was told, among other things, that he was “the worst guy on Earth.” The comments also ranged from promises to never return to the properties to hoping the casinos would fail. “And those were some of the more positive comments,” Savage said Tuesday at “Smoking in Casinos: Did We Get it Wrong,” a panel session at the National Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Las Vegas. But when he looked at the data, most negative comments came from patrons in the lowest tier of players. His top two tiers remained consistent in their spend. And the overall health of his employees has improved. “We thought that smokers gambled more than non-smokers,” said Andrew Klebanow, principal of Klebanow Consulting and a contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. “We thought if we implemented smoking bans, it would be economic suicide. … The pandemic allowed tribes to push smoking out of the building with little or no economic impact.” Casino operators have traditionally been fearful of smoking bans, because of the perception that smokers were the majority of gamblers. But Michael Meczka, president of Meczka Marketing Research Consulting, a company that works with gaming clients, says that fear is unfounded and statistically errant. “The bottom line is that location, location, location makes the difference, not smoking, smoking, smoking,” Meczka said. “These people have no place to go but to your oligopoly properties. (Gaming operators) without smoking are having the best quarters they’ve ever had after this pandemic. There’s so much evidence that smoking has less impact than we’ve probably thought than location and convenience close to home.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, approximately 14% of adults older than 18 smoked cigarettes. But according to Klebanow, casinos that allow smoking traditionally have allocated an inordinate amount of floor space to smoking patrons. “Why are you allocating 85% of your gaming floor to smoking when the population is 86% nonsmoking?” Klebanow asked. “The research has proven that the majority of gamblers are not smokers.” Casinos can not only mitigate their losses, but also increase their margins, when smoking bans are enacted. Clinton Isham, Tribal Relations Consultant for the Americans for Nonmoking Rights Foundation, met with executive Dan Brown of the Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison in Wisconsin after the casino instituted a smoking ban. “The data we collected indicated there would be a small decline in revenue for three months after going smoke-free, followed by increased revenue,” Isham said. “Dan said it was really unbelievable how revenue increased the third or fourth month after the ban.” Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.