As most of you either work directly for or do business with a gaming company, I don’t have to tell you about our industry’s emphasis on customer service. Working in a service-oriented industry means catering to all types of people – from different countries, cultures and backgrounds – and it’s our goal to provide all our customers with a safe and comfortable environment that lives up to their expectations.
One issue heating up that has the potential to impact this goal is smoking. As an industry, we are not pro-smoking or anti-smoking, but our job as a business is to keep all our customers happy. And like it or not, many of our customers choose to smoke. We also recognize that there are others, including employees, who do not smoke. We believe that state-of-the-art ventilation systems, which can be found in many newer casinos nationwide and which are gradually being installed in casinos as they upgrade their facilities, can provide a comfortable and safe environment for all our customers and employees.
We’ve seen governments in 11 states and 4,000 cities enact full-scale smoking bans – criminalizing smoking in all public places including bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and shopping malls. We’ve also heard how these new laws against smoking have impacted the businesses in these areas. In New York City, for example, bar and restaurant owners have noted drops in sales since the city banned smoking, and racetrack casinos in Delaware also have reported dips in gaming revenue as well as in visitor numbers. Outside the United States, gaming revenues at Australia’s largest gaming operator, TABCORP, fell 8 percent after a smoking ban in the area took effect.
But not all anti-smoking legislation is cut from the same cloth. A local ordinance approved recently in Kansas City, Mo., doesn’t have nearly the weight of the overall bans in New York, Delaware and other states. To avoid an unfair competitive edge, the ordinance states that the two casinos in Kansas City would not be required to comply with ban unless neighboring cities adopted similar smoking ordinances. This exception applies to Kansas City bars and restaurants as well.
Two petitions that would prohibit smoking in public places in Nevada were submitted to the secretary of state in November and will be decided by voters in a future election. However, one petition that would ban smoking in some parts of the casino, including restaurants and shopping malls, would impact casinos more than the other, which would continue to allow customers to smoke throughout the casino property. Both would continue to allow smoking sections in gaming areas.
In addition to recently passed and proposed legislation at the state and local level, there are other forces that could have a lasting effect on the outcome of this debate. Of most concern to the gaming industry and other hospitality businesses is the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a standards-setting organization that is the starting point for many state and local building code provisions. ASHRAE’s proposed changes to its Standard 62, which deals with air ventilation, would require cumbersome and expensive physical and engineering separations between smoking and nonsmoking areas. The proposed amendments could be interpreted to make it impossible to achieve healthy air quality levels in buildings or parts of buildings – including casinos – where patrons are allowed to smoke.
What ASHRAE’s proposed standards don’t take into consideration is the unique makeup and design of our casinos. While typical office buildings recycle air, many of our casinos use a more sophisticated air-ventilation system, first pumping air into the facilities from the outside, circulating it once, and then removing the air and replacing it with fresh air. Unlike commercial properties, most casinos today also are built with elevated ceilings, which further helps maintain high levels of air quality.
This year, the AGA will continue to work closely with ASHRAE to emphasize our support of what we see as reasonable, science-based solutions to indoor-air quality (IAQ) concerns. As a part of this effort, the AGA’s IAQ working group – made up of member company employees with engineering and technical expertise, state association representatives and consultants familiar with building ventilation – will monitor ASHRAE’s work and help voice our views on relevant issues.
One of our priorities in 2005 is to establish a separate standards committee within ASHRAE that would address concerns specific to the hospitality industry. After a yearlong petition drive, the AGA has gathered the requisite number of signatures to engage ASHRAE’s full membership in a vote to decide whether or not to establish that committee. If we win the vote, which is expected this summer, the gaming and hospitality industries’ unique IAQ concerns would be addressed more appropriately.
In this new year, we expect smoking to be a front-burner issue for all companies involved in the hospitality industry, including ours. We always have been committed to the health and safety of all of our customers, and finding a balanced approach to IAQ concerns will help us continue that mission.