How Are Smokefree Casinos Faring?

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No smoking in the casino

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?

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!

John

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:

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:

  1. MGM National Harbor
  2. Encore Boston Harbor
  3. Resorts World NYC
  4. Empire City (Yonkers)
  5. Parx
  6. Mohegan Sun
  7. Foxwoods

(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.

Have a question? Submit yours here!


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21 Replies to “How Are Smokefree Casinos Faring?”

  • calwatch says:

    The other example is California, where tribes don’t report financial data but can choose whether or not to be non-smoking. The two largest casinos in the state, Yaamava and Pechanga, have stayed non-smoking, although Yaamava recently created a smoking room, which is maybe the size of a house (2,533 square feet) compared to the hundreds of thousands of square feet on the floor.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Thanks for that great point, calwatch – and similar to Pennsylvania there’s smoking options nearby, but Yaamava for instance hasn’t been hurting for business!

      • Reggie R says:

        You have to look at this outside of revenue. The cost savings for non smoking could be enormous. Carpets last longer, drapes, etc. Non smoking prob worth millions in refurbishing costs

        • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

          We’re absolutely with you on this point Reggie! When an executive from Parx Casino spoke at G2E in October, he noted slot equipment repairs went down, felt replacements went way down, and so on. The health insurance cost savings they saw as a result of less use of the policies because of better health over time was another plus he mentioned. There was an initial cost to deep clean the casino, but that’s a one-time expense.

          The challenge for many casino executives who haven’t taken the leap to non-smoking is they focus hard on that revenue number, and don’t realize that even if there’s a small dip, the cost savings would likely exceed the dip quickly, making it a net positive.But as Parx saw, a dip isn’t even necessarily guaranteed nowadays.

  • Joanne Boone says:

    When in Nov and Dec will BC be at Plaza Hotel

  • Vanessa McDonald says:

    Canadian Casinos Have been smoke free for a long long time.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      This is a great reminder, Vanessa, that some countries, like Canada, are ahead of the US on this one!

      • Maureen says:

        In Canada we have been smoke free and even smokers enjoy the atmosphere. Also a lot of us have stopped going to Vegas because of the smoking. My husband is a lung cancer survivor even though he is a non smoker but we just can’t afford to take the chance.

        • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

          Hey Maureen! The good news is even Vegas is seeing some movement. Park MGM on the strip is fully smokefree, and the downtown BCSlots at Plaza area is also smokefree. Hopefully over time more options for those who need or prefer smokefree spaces will pop up!

  • Paula Selby says:

    Ohio casino’s are smoke free. Love it! We used to go to Wheeling Island in W.Va. before gambling was legal in Ohio. The smoke was terrible. The place was dirty with ashes everywhere and the screens on the machines were cloudy. I saw a guy dumping his ashes and putting out his cigarette on their brand new carpet! So thankful to now have smoke free casinos now in Ohio.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Paula! We’re also glad you have casinos that you find comfortable in Ohio!

  • Michael Robitaille says:

    Living in Washington State, it makes me mad that the casinos in Washington State are allowing smoking. Thanks to a legality, Tribal casinos are exempt from the Washington State Clean Indoor Air Act (which became law in 2005). The closest Washington State casino that’s smoke-free to me is a 5 hour drive one way (Ilani).

    Thankfully, in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wildhorse Resort & Casino in Pendleton, OR is smoke-free (about a 2 hour drive one way).

    Washington State is one of a handful of states which allows both recreational & medicinal Cannabis (Marijuana) use. This can be a bit of an issue when it comes to the casinos (most Tribes forbid the use of Cannabis in the casinos, but cause of newer processes). A person could be smoking Cannabis in the middle of the casino floor & no one would even know.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      The legal loopholes that allow smoking in tribal casinos is a frustrating one, but casinos do listen to their patrons – in Connecticut, both tribal casinos opted to go fully non-smoking in part due to customer feedback, so one way you can encourage them to reconsider is to simply submit customer feedback through social media channels, contact us pages, etc. Your voice matters!

  • Judie Crabtree says:

    I don’t smoke any more, but I do Vape! Sooo I won’t be going to the Casino any more if they all go to non smoking!

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Sorry to hear this, Judie. Some casinos have invested in things like climate-controlled smoking patios with gaming to ensure players who wish to have that environment can still have the experience they wish to enjoy.

  • Mike says:

    I was at the plaza for a week and never saw anyone in the bc room . If you watch most of his streams it’s the same . Attendants all told me it’s a ghost town except when he is there . Jonathon Kissel is smart . He will close it sooner than later

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Thanks for your comment Mike. We agree, it’s not as busy as we’d like it to be, however as it opened 6 months ago, we are still getting the word out there! Our smoke free space started out with only around 25 games, and due to its popularity, they built an expansion to 5X its size. It’s just a matter of time before we again will outgrow the space, and join the likes of other developed nations in realizing that fun & clean air are good for all people!

  • Marissa Flores says:

    Barona Casino went smoke-free since the pandemic. I’d love it if you came to visit us in San Diego County!

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Hi Marissa! We’ve had a few players tell us Barona is smokefree, but their website indicates an indoor smoking space that’s not air separated. If true, that wouldn’t meet the definition of a smokefree property, unfortunately. If you know otherwise, please let us know, as a direct outreach to Barona also indicated the above.

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