Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans was a councilwoman six years ago when she led an effort to ban smoking in casinos, bars, and restaurants in the city. Everywhere she went Cantrell was told that there was no way the measure would pass.
Instead, the New Orleans Smoke-Free Air Act passed by a 7-0 vote.
“We had the courage to stand up for our musicians who were saying their lungs were their instruments,” Cantrell said during a Wednesday conference call hosted by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “We stood up for restaurants and bars and casinos, people who said we shouldn’t have to die to earn an honest living.”
In New Orleans, the indoor smoking ban affected just one casino – Harrah’s New Orleans – the only property operating within the city limits. Harrah’s created an outside smoking plaza for its customers.
Cantrell was one of several advocates who insist that nonsmoking casinos are not an impediment to the operators’ bottom lines, and are a boon to the health of employees. ANR President and CEO Cynthia Hallett said that because most brick-and-mortar casinos eliminated smoking because of health mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time to continue those policies.
“We are urging casinos to keep these policies in place, even once the pandemic is behind us,” Hallett said.
Casinos have long resisted pleas to ban smoking, fearing they will alienate smokers. But according to slot influencer Brian Christopher, CEO of BC Slots who has more than 700,000 followers on his YouTube channel, those fears are misplaced. BC Slots surveyed its club members, and 19% of respondents were smokers.
“But a majority of them preferred nonsmoking casinos,” Christopher said, adding that 95% of all respondents stated a preference for nonsmoking casinos.
At least one casino that has banned smoking has no regrets. In November 2014, Ho-Chunk Casino Madison in Wisconsin decided to survey club members about their smoking preferences. The results were surprising.
“Gambling and smoking seemed to go hand in hand, but what we found out was 70% of our clientele was in favor of us going smoke-free,” said Missy Tracy, municipal relations coordinator for the casino.
Ho-Chunk went smoke-free in August 2015, and revenues “took a nice big dip,” Tracy said. “But by the fifteenth month, we exceeded revenue and we became our nation’s flagship casino. … Our headcount went down, but our coin in went up.”
Tracy added it’s also been easier to recruit new employees, many of whom are millennials who prefer to work in a non-smoking environment.