2011-06-30 SJ-R Our Opinion: “Smoking ban is not what ails casinos”

This editorial appeared today in the State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. It is a strong endorsement of continuing the present comprehensive smoke-free state law and not exempting casinos. It notes how the methodology used in the recently released study, “Exempting casinos from the Smoke-free Illinois Act will not bring patrons back: they never left” contrasts with that used by smoking proponents, namely: “Gambling revenue dropped in Illinois when indoor smoking was banned, therefore smoking is the cause.”

I sneezed and simultaneously my stock portfolio went down, so it’s my fault for sneezing! Well, not quite.

But the very first reader’sa comment is already dismissing the study as akin to “climate ‘experts’ using computer models to decide what the weather/climate will be instead of actually using historical data. They had to adjust the data to get to their predetermined conclusion.”

Naysayers abound aplenty these days, obviating the need for the tobacco industry to leap to its own defense anymore.

Our Opinion: Smoking ban is not what ails casinos

The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL
The Associated Press – Posted Jun 30, 2011 @ 12:05 AM

The end of the spring legislative session marked one more milestone of survival for the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which withstood yet another challenge from the state’s gambling industry and its unwavering desire to live in the smoky past.

As strong proponents of the act, we feel obligated to remain vigilant about attempts to weaken it. This is especially true when big-money interests like the gambling lobby use spurious data to back their efforts.

So in the interest of getting ahead of the inevitable next round of attacks on the state’s indoor smoking ban from the Illinois casino crowd, we call to your attention a study published online this month in the journal Tobacco Control.

Appearing under the self-explanatory title “Exempting casinos from the Smoke-free Illinois Act will not bring patrons back: they never left,” the study compares state unemployment and home construction data with casino admission figures in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri.

It’s conclusion?

“When economic conditions were accounted for, casino admissions in Illinois did not decline significantly relative to neighbouring (sic) states, nor did admissions increase in neighbouring (sic) states,” the study says.

The study’s methodology is a far cry from the evidence we’ve heard from the pro-smoking side since the Illinois smoking ban went into effect in January 2008. That evidence generally goes something like this: Gambling revenue dropped in Illinois when indoor smoking was banned, therefore smoking is the cause. By contrast, this study takes into account different admission reporting procedures among the states, focuses strictly on border casinos and compares unemployment and housing construction data — two important economic indicators for gauging a recession — among the states.

“Illinois experienced a steeper recession than neighbouring (sic) states…,” the authors note.
We’re certain that this study will be greeted with eye-rolling by the pro-smoking side. It’s the work of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y., but it’s also funded in part by the St. Louis-based Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution.

But the authors go to great lengths to define their data and justify their conclusion that the recession, which arrived a month ahead of the Illinois smoking ban in December 2007, is to blame for the state’s gambling downturn.

Being an academic study, it does not make a couple points we believe will be relevant as long as this debate survives.

First, that the Illinois casinos in the St. Louis metropolitan area are simply outclassed by the giant, new Lumiere Place complex in St. Louis.

Second, that when an Illinois casino builds something like Lumiere Place, as happened in December 2008 with Jumer’s Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, it will crush its across-the-river, smoke-friendly competition.

Third, and most important, that Illinois’ indoor smoking law is designed to protect the health of all employees and business patrons in the state. That includes nonsmoking casino employees and nonsmoking gamblers.

8 responses to “2011-06-30 SJ-R Our Opinion: “Smoking ban is not what ails casinos”

  1. Lumiere has a very small gambling area compared to every other casino in the metro. So it could not be stealing that much business from the Queen. Second, Lumiere did not steal that much business from other MO casinos. Third, other IL casinos too far from St. Louis also suffered as much as the Queen. Fourth, Harrahs which now has a large nonsmoking gambling area simply is not as crowded as the smoking gambling area. I have noticed this myself when I’ve been at harrahs. Fifth, i recall that even before the IL ban, and before the Queen was upgraded, that one time the Queen management made a public statement that their nonsmoking gambling area was not as profitable per square foot as their smoking gambling area. true, Lumiere is new, but the Queen is also new, upgraded, and spectacular.

    mogasp question: When was the Casino Queen upgraded and has that resulted in increased traffic?

  2. My argument is the same as all the other studies of this type. You can’t make claims of no economic impact without actually looking at revenue. I agree with mogasp that the economy plays a roll. But if the state which has the ban drops more percentage wise then the claim of no impact is invalid. Admissions tells you nothing. As any bar owner in ban states will tell you. Just as many come in but they don’t stay as long. No one stays where their lifestyle is not accommodated.

    Marshall P Keith

  3. I have two main criticisms of the new study:

    (1) Examining “admissions” seems pretty pointless. Admissions could double, but if gambling was cut in half the casinos would close (or half of them would). The only reason I can think of for examining admissions rather than income and then writing and publishing a study about it is to try to make what I strongly believe is a false claim : that casinos are not “ailing” because of smoking bans.

    (2) While the recession may have hit the four states differently, I strongly doubt it hit them with a 25% difference (which is the spread between Illinois and its neighbors according to the economic study(ies?) done.)

    – MJM

    mogasp reply: Concerning your first point, the argument was that when Illinois casinos within easy driving distance of those in Missouri, for example, went smoke-free a substantial number of their smoking patrons fled, and that is the primary reason for the drop in revenue. This study concludes that drop did not occur and the revenue reduction was due primarily to the recession.
    I don’t understand your second point but I have confidence in the researchers who did the data analysis and I trust they didn’t omit anything important.

  4. Tony Palazzolo

    Quite frankly I’m not sure if this helps or hurts your cause MoGASP. The press release has fooled a couple of papers. They put revenue in the text and forget that the study said that admissions wasn’t off….by much…..if you use…..the housing market as a gauge. Those with half a brain that have to make decisions about the issue will understand and may even be offeneded by this. The end result is revenue is still down. Their concern is not about admissions but about revenue. A strategist knows that you can’t win all battles. Just not sure that your going to get the bang for your buck on this one.

    mogasp reply: I’d have to go back and look to see if revenue was mentioned. In any case, I believe this study helps MoGASP but I would have wanted it published regardless, as long as it’s scientifically defensible.

  5. As you probably know, the Queen was originally a river boat style casino, which was tied up at the bank of the Missouri river, just like MO casinos originally were. In the earliest days, the boats were required to actually cruise inorder to have a gaming license. I remember gambling on the old Queen, while it was actually moving under it’s own power up and down the Missippi River. But the rules said if the captain could come up with a reason to remain tied up, such as mechanical or weather conditions, then the boat could remain docked, but still have gambling. Since it costs money to actually cruise, that rule started to get abused. Frankly, I thought the old Queen river boat was getting kind of grubby. The new land-based casino was opened approximately August 2007, which is about 5 months before the 2008 IL ban kicked in. Il and MO removed their cruising requirements some time in the late 1990s. traffic?? I don’t know, but they also added a new hotel at the same time.

  6. Bill Hannegan

    Why are statewide economic statistics relevant when border casinos by definition share the same economy? Does a lack of Illinois housing starts any more negatively impact the Casino Queen than Lumiere? What difference does a few thousand feet make?

  7. Thanks for the response MoGasp, but let me explain:

    1) Some losses may have come from “fleeing customers” but I’d guess a fair number simply dumped/reduced their casino gambling. The “level playing field” argument is a favorite of antismoking advocates, but a quick look at what’s happened to the pubs in the various parts of the UK over the last five years shows it’s by no means a commanding factor.

    2) The 25% point I was making concerned the 22% revenue loss in illinois vs. the 2 to 7% gain in the neighboring states. While the recession may have hit the four states differently, it’s hard to believe (and I didn’t see anything that would support the argument) that it hit them 24% to 29% differently.

    – MJM

  8. Your study cannot distinguish if the revenue drop was due to the same number of patrons gambling less because of the recession or the ban. All you know is the same number of patrons visited the IL casinos. But here’s how you can figure it out….. MO also had a recession and a drop in the housing market, and even if not as bad as IL some casino revenue drop should have resulted from that, if you are going to insist that somehow the housing market makes the same number of people gamble less each visit. Then MO casino revenue should also be down by some amount ( BUT IT WAS NOT) ergo.. your whole hypothesis that recessions and housing markets impact people’s willingness to gamble fails.

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