States Don’t Like Banning Casino Smoking

Casino smoking bans are a hot topic. Smoking is still common in most casinos. However, there is a new movement to change that.

Atlantic City is the latest jurisdiction to discuss the heated casino smoking debate. New Jersey has a statewide smoking ban. However, 25 percent of Atlantic City casino floors may permit smoking.

Smoking opponents cite employee health and safety as the reasons why the statewide ban should be extended to casinos. Smoking proponents cite the loss of revenue and jobs that bans caused in other states. Pennsylvania still permits smoking in its casinos. The fear is that Atlantic City casino patrons who smoke would choose Pennsylvania instead. 

While smoking is down to about 12 percent of the US adult population, it is higher than that in casinos. If smokers are required to go outside to light up, casinos are concerned those players may not reenter the property. This would hurt profits.

Smoking is still prevalent in casinos

Full-service commercial casinos are legal in 26 states. Smoking in casinos is banned in 11 of those states. Of those 11 states that do not permit casino smoking, seven already had it banned when slot machines and table games were legalized. 

Only four states banned smoking in existing casinos; Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, and South Dakota. A smoking ban was already in place when commercial casinos opened in Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Ohio. No state with an existing smoking ban ever added casinos to the exemption list upon legalization.

The financial effects of the 2008 Illinois smoking ban were studied by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, which determined that it caused a 19 percent loss in gaming revenues. The conclusion was that smokers went to casinos in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Smoking bans in Colorado, Montana, and South Dakota affected gaming revenues. The statistics are clear that revenue was affected by smoking bans in that era, especially when neighboring states did not follow suit. 

Indoor smoking is permitted in 15 commercial casino states:

In the list above, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island exempt casinos from smoking bans that cover bars and restaurants that are not at gaming establishments. 

At least 11 other states allow smoking in other types of gambling establishments. This includes video lottery, historical horse racing, bingo halls, and off-track betting parlors:

Tribal casinos are available in most states that don’t have commercial ones and many that do. Statewide smoking bans exclude tribal land. Smoking policies are up to each reservation’s government. 

No new casino smoking bans since 2010

While the casino smoking ban discussion heats up again, the odds appear to be against any major movement. Only four states have ever banned smoking in existing casinos. South Dakota was the last. That was in 2010. 

It is not just casino smoking bans that fell out of favor. Alaska was the last state to pass a bar and restaurant smoking ban. That was in 2018.

There are 21 states that permit smoking in bars. Of those, 12 leave restaurant smoking policies up to the owners. However, in every state without a comprehensive smoking ban except Oklahoma, local governments can enact stricter tobacco policies. Most states without comprehensive smoking bans have some at local levels, especially in urban areas. However, these usually exempt casinos, and sometimes bars.

Casinos in smoking ban states get creative

When smoking is banned, casinos find ways to make it work. In Colorado, one Black Hawk casino qualifies as a tobacco shop, which allows it to permit smoking on the casino floor. Other casinos in the state have outdoor slot areas where smoking and gaming are permitted.

Maryland and Ohio also have outdoor gaming areas. This is a compromise that seems to work well. Most other states have smaller gaming markets where smokers congregate near entrances to smoke and return to gaming. 

Since no state banned casino smoking since 2010, there is no current data on how it affects gaming revenue. In 2010, 19 percent of adults smoked. Today, that number is about 12 percent. It is possible that gaming revenue would not be as negatively affected today as it was when Colorado, Illinois, and South Dakota banned smoking if it makes any difference at all.

There seems to be some evidence that banning smoking still affects the bottom line of gaming establishments. In 2022, two of the three Detroit casinos brought smoking sections back after going nonsmoking due to the pandemic. 

Last month, Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina built a smoking area with about 200 machines. Harrah’s management cited competition in nearby states as the reason. Casinos opened in Virginia in 2022, where smoking is permitted in businesses where minors are banned.