As members of the commercial casino industry, we are in the business of providing exceptional customer service. This means providing a high-quality hospitality and entertainment experience that meets or exceeds our customers’ expectations. Ideally, we would be able to cater to the preferences of our entire diverse population of customers, making them each feel welcome, comfortable and well-served. In practice, however, this can be challenging.
While our industry always has been excellent at adapting to changing customer preferences, incorporating myriad new amenities that enhance the customer experience, there are some issues that prove more difficult to address because our customers have varied interests. One key example of this is the debate about smoking bans and indoor air quality.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) and its member companies have made it clear that we take the issue of indoor air quality extremely seriously. Throughout the industry, our number one priority is the comfort and safety of our patrons and employees. We are committed to managing the indoor environment in casinos in a manner that provides the highest level of safety and comfort for our employees and customers, while also providing the best possible customer experience for all our patrons.
To that end, many of our members have been at the forefront of installing cutting-edge ventilation systems at their properties. The use of these technologies, as well as the investigation of alternative ways to improve indoor air quality, will continue to be explored.
On the public policy front—the AGA worked for many years with organizations at the national level, such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), to ensure that the concerns of our industry and patrons were being heard and considered during the development of standards for ventilation. In addition, because we believe the entire gaming industry must take proactive steps to make indoor air quality an issue of primary concern, we have provided our member companies with information about indoor air quality, ventilation innovations and related issues.
Over the past couple of years, however, there has been a change in the arena where the smoking ban issue is being considered. What once was a nationally debated issue among indoor air quality standards-setting organizations now has become almost exclusively a state matter. This shift leaves the AGA, which does not get involved in state legislative battles, now somewhat on the sidelines of these discussions, and for the foreseeable future, indoor air quality is going to be addressed on a company-by-company and jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. However, we at the AGA will continue to serve as a resource for each of our member companies as they explore various options for dealing with the issue.
The reality we have to understand is that 20 percent of casino patrons smoke, a number established by a recent University of Nevada-Reno study. As the options are considered, the smoking ban issue is not only a customer satisfaction issue, but an economic issue as well. What will those 20 percent of patrons do if smoking is banned in the casinos they typically visit? More to the point: Is there the potential that a ban will chase off as many as 20 percent of our patrons, particularly if other gaming outlets are not required to ban smoking?
Available information on the economic impacts of smoking bans shows cause for concern. According to Andrew Smith’s article in this publication just last month (“Getting Smoked”), “…there are indisputable costs associated with banning smoking at casinos, and there is a wealth of ‘hard’ data out there that demonstrates this quite clearly.” Smith cites Delaware’s Clean Indoor Act and reveals that “revenues have decreased [from 2002 to 2004] by more than $12 million.” He also points to research conducted on smoking bans in Australia, which shows “customers who smoke are now playing less often and for shorter periods of time.” And in Scotland, “where, a ban was instituted in March 2006, casino and bingo operators have seen revenues drop markedly,” Smith writes.
The bottom line is that our industry serves both smoking and nonsmoking customers – and it’s our job to ensure that all our patrons have an enjoyable experience when they visit our casinos. Our industry is neither pro-smoking nor anti-smoking, but we realize that balancing the needs of these two distinct sets of patrons, as well as those of our employees who don’t smoke, is of paramount importance. There is also a responsibility to the shareholders who have invested in our commercial casino companies and, not incidentally, a responsibility to the thousands of people and families within the communities where these businesses are located who count on the success of these businesses for their livelihoods.
Balancing these various responsibilities makes it very clear that there exists no simple solution to the indoor air quality debate. For some of our patrons, secondhand smoke is, at its best irritating and annoying. At its worst, secondhand smoke can be pernicious. Yet we cannot just write off the one-fifth of our customers who smoke, we have to consider their rights – including the right to enjoy their time at our properties.
True, a number of commercial gaming states recently have implemented smoking bans that affect casinos, and the industry takes these new laws seriously and will do whatever is necessary to comply.
Moving forward, however, it is important for everyone involved in this issue to keep in mind that the indoor air quality debate is not a black or white issue, which means that a black-and-white approach – such as a blanket smoking ban – is unlikely to be the best solution. Instead, our industry is confronted with multiple shades of gray – including customer preferences, technological improvements and smart business decisions – that continue to show just how complex this issue is, and will continue to be well into the future. The AGA remains committed to serving our members on this issue by providing the information and resources they need to best manage their indoor air quality, and therefore best serve the needs of their patrons.