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Smoking Ban to Casino Aztar Spreaded

cheap camel cigarettesIllinois officials say the recession, which hit in December 2007 — and not just a statewide smoking ban implemented in 2008 — played a significant role in the decline of revenue that state’s gaming facilities. But still, risking a decline in gaming revenues by enacting a comprehensive smoking ban that includes Casino Aztar may cause the Evansville City Council to shy away from including the riverboat in a proposed expansion of the city’s smoking ordinance. Council members have concern that with newer gaming facilities that permit smoking, such as the French Lick casino, only a short distance away, including Aztar in Evansville’s smoking ban could be detrimental to tax revenue.

“I’m still open on it, but timing is the issue in this case,” said 1st Ward Councilman Dan McGinn, who co-sponsored the proposed ban with At-large Councilman Dan Adams.

Monday night, Council members gave a first reading to an amendment to the city’s 2006 smoking ban, which would include all public places, including restaurants, bars and the casino. Under the amendment, those who chose to smoke while at the casino would be forced to step outside.

The Council heard presentations by officials from Smoke-Free Gaming of America and Aztar General Manager Ward Shaw.

Shaw used a reduction in revenues at casinos in Illinois to predict how Aztar would fare. The Illinois gaming facility closest to Evansville is Harrah’s Metropolis, which saw about a 5 percent reduction in gaming taxes from 2009 to 2010.

Data provided by the Illinois Gaming Board showed admissions at the eight casinos it governs dropped by 15 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Shaw said during his presentation revenues at those facilities plummeted by more than 20 percent in 2008. He said the cause of the drop was the adoption in Illinois of a statewide smoking ban on Jan. 1, 2008.

Illinois data also showed admissions dropped by roughly 12 percent from 2007 to 2008. In 2007, Illinois facilities reported 16,525,437 in admissions. They reported 14,637,054 in 2008.

Gene O’Shea, director of the self-exclusion program at the Illinois Gaming Board, said Tuesday that more than just the smoking ban contributed to the decline in casinos there. One contributor was the recession the country entered in December 2007.

“There are multiple factors that went into why earnings went down,” said “The economy was one of them, and smoking was another.

“What percentage one or the other was responsible for, nobody knows,” O’Shea said.

He said earnings at other casinos across the country were dealt the same blow during that time.

Data provided by the Indiana Gaming Commission also showed a decline in admissions from 2007 to 2008 by about 15 percent.

State data showed admissions at Aztar dropped from 1.5 million turnstile admissions in 2007 to 1.2 million in 2008.

However, admissions at Illinois facilities continued to plummet while Aztar stabilized. In 2010, Illinois facilities reported a total of 13,834,414 admissions, while Aztar recorded admissions of 1,274,179.

Indiana Gaming Commission Director Ernest Yelton said Aztar would be the first casino in the state to become smoke free if the amendment is adopted. But the facility may fare better with a smoking bill backed earlier this month by a State House Panel that exempts casino gaming floors.

Yelton said a few years ago, the French Lick facility recently devoted “a large portion” of its facility to nonsmoking. About four years ago, Majestic Star, in Gary, Ind., tried devoting a floor of its facility to nonsmokers.

“But that did not last very long,” Yelton said.

Like McGinn, At-large City Councilman Jonathan Weaver said he was still undecided, but the economic impact of the smoking ban should be carefully examined.

“Especially with the aspect of how it will impact the casino,” Weaver said.

City Council President Connie Robinson, who represents the 4th Ward, said the $4.3 million decline in revenue the city could see by including the casino in its ban may be too much of a risk.

“I think if the state legislature were to do this, they’re going to exempt casinos, too,” Robinson said. “People have become dependent on that money in terms of public safety and buying things we otherwise wouldn’t have money to afford.”

Robinson added the city budget already has taken a hit from property tax caps brought on a few years ago.

Fifth Ward Councilman John Friend also said it may make better sense to continue allowing smoking at the casino and then revisit the issue if trends change toward nonsmoking facilities.

“The thing about those casinos in Illinois is that they can’t go back to smoking because people change their habits,” Friend said. “It would be another thing if we changed later on.”


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