As casino industry recovers, this would once again be a good time for it to stop smoking

As casino industry recovers, this would once again be a good time for it to stop smoking

  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
October 6, 2021 10:35 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

As a kid growing up in Las Vegas, it seemed like just about everyone smoked cigarettes, including my parents, brother, and sisters. I thought I even caught the family dog sneaking a puff. But that was a long time ago.

The same was true in the casino industry. Smoking went literally hand in hand with drinking and gambling. And eating. And standing around. And betting in the sports book. And watching Tom Jones. Not only was it, as Tom might put it, not unusual, but it was as familiar as breathing.

Make that slightly labored breathing. There was a time, not that long ago, that casinos made pool halls smell minty fresh.


Casinos have changed mightily since I was a kid sneaking nickels into the slots at Binion’s Horseshoe Club, and not just because there’s no more Binion’s Horseshoe Club as I knew it. More than the names and buildings have changed.

Ever so gradually, the gambling halls of my youth have been replaced by a new generation of cleaner operations with better air-filtration systems and, increasingly, customers who not only prefer not to smell cigarette and cigar smoke, but demand it.

In Nevada, the casino industry has had such a lock on the state legislature that all attempts to ban smoking have been snuffed like a two-bit Corona. It didn’t hurt that a top gaming lobbyist also represented Big Tobacco.

That short-sightedness – a concern bordering on abject fear of driving away the smoking customer – has not aged well as the rest of the world moves away from partying in smoke-filled rooms (ironically, unless they’re filled with marijuana smoke).

All this to say that Las Vegas has perceptibly changed, but remains well behind the curve when it comes to quitting the habit. I’m sure some MBA with a nasty nicotine habit has done all the statistics and charts that say keeping things status quo is the most profitable model for casinos still getting off the carpet from the devastating physical and economic effects of COVID-19.

And yet, and yet. It has to happen sometime. It has already happened in many places, cities, and industries. And it remains beyond a little hypocritical that some of the same gaming companies that operate in a smoke-filled environment demand that their headquarters remain smoke-free.

All this is known, understood, and, generally, ignored by the operators who have otherwise transformed a racket into a worldwide business success story, an industry that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Look no further than this week’s G2E 2021 convention at the Venetian Expo Center for proof of changing times and technology. Not only is the face of the gaming industry changing, but the games people play appear to be multiplying by the day.

And note that the Atlantic City-based Casino Employees against Smoking Effects group is not only attracting media attention with its testimonials from the dealers’ room and the gaming pit, but also persuading elected officials and an increasing number of properties of the wisdom of making the change.


So, I repeat: This would again be an excellent time to make that change. In a pandemic that has wrecked the lungs of so many people, that makes the timing more than excellent. It makes it perfect. And humane. And a sign that the industry as a whole is sensitive not just to customers with preexisting conditions today, but that it also understands that the aftermath of COVID is going to be felt for a generation.

On the Strip, Park MGM has taken the step and from the sound of things, no one is going through nicotine withdrawals. The massive Culinary Union, whose front-line service workers fully appreciate the good sense of making the transition, supports a cleaner standard.

This is not a tough call, just the right one.

If, after all this, you still wonder what people really think about continuing to allow widespread smoking in casinos, look around the Global Gaming Expo at all the industry members who aren’t lighting up.

Just stop wondering why.