Smoking Ban Blamed for Drop in Casino Revenues

The Illinois smoking ban is partially to blame for eight straight months of lost revenue in state casinos, says Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

From January, when the smoking ban started, to August, casinos' gross receipts dropped 18 percent compared to the same period in 2007, according to the association's monthly report. Also, 926,000 fewer people have visited the casinos.

"The smoking ban is having a major impact," Swoik told The Wall Street Journal. According to Swoik, a study showed that 60 to 70 percent of the gamblers in the East St. Louis and Rock Island casinos in Illinois are smokers. In Las Vegas, comparatively, only one in five gamblers smoke while playing.

Smoking ban proponents argue that the troubled economy and high gas prices, not the smoking ban, are more likely to blame for the drop in casino revenue.

While Swoik acknowledges that the smoking ban is not the sole reason for lower revenues, reports from the casino industries in neighboring Iowa and Indiana, where smoking on the casino floor is allowed, may show the impact of a ban to be significant.

While Indiana's casinos reported a drop in revenue and attendance, it was slight compared to Illinois. Iowa, though, actually reported a gain in both revenue and customers from January to August.

The Illinois gaming association continues to lobby state lawmakers for an exemption that would allow smoking on the casino floor.

Revenue from the Illinois' riverboat casinos help fund public economic development projects, such as road maintenance throughout the state. In addition, the gaming association allocates a certain portion of the money to charity.

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