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Did smoking ban cut into casino profits?
Associated Press
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Published: 2/10/2008 12:06 AM

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Gambling industry officials said the recent statewide indoor smoking ban could be to blame for an overall decline in state gambling revenue.

The Illinois Gaming Board reported that casinos in the state experienced a 17 percent revenue decrease in January compared with January last year. The majority of casinos also reported an almost 6 percent decrease in admissions.

Officials are blaming the smoking ban -- which went into effect Jan. 1 -- for the decline. Illinois, along with 18 other states, made it illegal to smoke in nearly every public place and requires smokers to step at least 15 feet away from a building entrance, ventilation intake or an open window before lighting up.

The head of the gaming board said since people have to go outside to take smoke breaks, that means less time spent gambling.

"If you look at the admissions, they've gone down, but they haven't gone down as much as the revenues," said Tom Swoik, of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. "The less time people gamble, the more it has an effect on revenues."

The hardest hit with revenue decline was Harrah's Metropolis Casino in Metropolis, near the Kentucky border. The casino reported about a 23 percent drop in revenue since December. On Thursday, the casino announced its plans to lay off 30 employees.

Officials there said the smoking ban is the sole culprit.

But others in the industry claim the smoking ban is just one factor.

The economy and harsh weather are other major reasons for the drop in revenue, according to Bill Renk, vice president of Jumer's Casino in Rock Island.

"If we're going to be speaking specifically to smoking, I think the true picture for us is going to have to wait," Renk said. "Even then, we've done some things to sort of mitigate the situation by providing smoking areas for our guests which are being used."

Others dismissed the smoking ban as a factor at all.

A spokesman for the American Cancer Society said his organization has studied the issue and concluded that there are not long-term impacts on the economy after a smoking ban, such as the one enacted in Illinois.

"Right now is a very turbulent economic time, and to try to point to the Smoke Free Illinois Act as the reason a certain sector of the economy might be showing some slippage right now is a really big stretch," said Mike Grady of the American Cancer Society.

State Rep. Mike Boland, a Democrat from East Moline, said more time is needed to determine all the factors in the revenue decline and the economy could share the blame.

"I think we're probably going to have to wait to really see what's happening there," he said.