Many players know that Brian Christopher has adopted a pledge as of the beginning of 2023 to only promote smokefree gaming spaces. A player was curious about how smokefree spaces are impacted in terms of revenue:
I would be interested in knowing some data on how smoking affects a casino. More to the point, how going from a smoking casino to non-smoking has affected those who have done it. I know Illinois casinos took a hit when they went smoke free, but have they now recovered?John
I HATE having to leave a machine I am playing on simply because a chain smoker sits down next to me, but with COPD I cannot stay there and put up with it. I applaud BCSlots for only playing at smoke free casinos!
We totally sympathize with your situation, John. There have been many stories surfacing of casino employees dealing with various conditions as a result of working in a smoking environment long term, and the hazards of even second-hand smoke are well documented. So how have nonsmoking policies impacted casinos?
Many of the reports about casinos taking a hit revenue-wise after going smoke free come from an era 10-15 years ago when smoking bans were still relatively new. Illinois went smoke free in 2008, for instance, and the debate was rigorous about how badly, if at all, Illinois casinos were impacted. A study conducted by Tobacco Control claimed there were no impacts, while others vigorously disagreed.
The failure of the Revel casino in Atlantic City shortly after opening was another case people pointed to; the casino was smokefree, but some industry watchers noted that Revel made many mistakes, such as ignoring the importance of comps to players, meaning there were multiple factors in play in the demise of the casino.
Meanwhile, there have been states that have mandated indoor smoke-free policies for quite some time, such as Massachusetts and Maryland. Maryland allowed outdoor smoking patios that featured gaming such as slots as a way to offer smokers a place to gamble without requiring the indoor spaces to have smoking at all.
What has been clear is that the player preference for smokefree spaces has grown over the years, and the impact of the pandemic accelerated the push for smokefree casinos after spaces temporarily went smokefree upon reopening.
Casinos that had long been permissive of smoking before the pandemic made the decision to not go back afterwards. A number of examples have stood out:
- Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut went smoke free and have stayed that way. Executives from both casinos do not believe the policy change has had a noticeable impact on their business.
- Parx casino in Pennsylvania is the most financially successful of the casinos in that state, and has remained so (and seen its leadership in the market increase) despite being smoke free and being close to smoking casinos in both Pennsylvania and Atlantic City.
- Isleta Casino in New Mexico previously maintained a separate smoke-free gaming space, Palace West, before the pandemic. Isleta reopened as “temporarily” smokefree after the pandemic closures, but recently confirmed that this change is now permanent in large part due to customer feedback.
At a panel at G2E 2023, the conversation about nonsmoking casinos took place there for the first time. One interesting data point was shared: The seven top performing casinos reporting revenues outside of Nevada in the 12 months ending August 2023 in terms of gross gaming revenue were all nonsmoking:
- MGM National Harbor
- Encore Boston Harbor
- Resorts World NYC
- Empire City (Yonkers)
- Mohegan Sun
(Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods data was based on slots only; they may have ranked higher if table game data was included.)
The first four casinos on this list are in markets where smoking bans are universal – casinos must comply. The next three (Parx, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods) are exempt from smoking bans, but have chosen to maintain nonsmoking properties anyway.
These successes have emboldened workers at properties in a number of states, such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, to push for state-wide casino smoking bans. Increasingly the competitive concerns have merged with health concerns in a number of markets.
This isn’t universal, as other markets like Laughlin and Reno don’t have any fully smoke-free casinos, and only Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip and the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas offer truly smoke-free spaces.
Still, that’s two more than Vegas had just a couple of years ago, and both seem to be off to a good start. Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel, for example, has shared on X (formerly Twitter) clips of a busy smoke-free gaming space, the Brian Christopher Slots area at Plaza, multiple times since its opening.
So while during the earlier years of smoke-free spaces there were bigger debates about the business risks, increasingly casinos are showing that going smoke free doesn’t necessarily mean a major dip in business.
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