Ban smoking for off-track betting

(anderson) Herald Bulletin

There’s an almost common perception that gambling and smoking often go together, though not always in a favorable manner.

In 2002, a study suggested that about two-thirds of treatment-seeking gamblers were current daily cigarette smokers. A 2010 study even found higher rates of smoking among problem gamblers.

The prevalence of the two — gambling and smoking — has been questioned by a 2009 observance of 14,052 gamblers in Lake Tahoe, Reno and Las Vegas. Of those, 6.7 percent were smoking at any given time. By applying their own methodology, those researchers widened that result to report that one-third of smokers in the gambling population were actually smoking while in the casino.

But perhaps more telling indicators were in a survey conducted in 2011. The American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest commissioned the Center for Policy Analysis to replicate an earlier poll to determine whether smoking bans were a significant factor in the subsequent downturn in gross gaming revenues at Illinois’s riverboat casinos.

Contrary to conventional industry wisdom, among gamblers who had actually visited a casino or racino in the previous 12 months, 53 percent said they were more likely to visit a casino where smoking is prohibited on the gaming floor, while 32 percent said it does not matter, and only 15 percent said they would be less likely to visit a casino where smoking is prohibited on the gaming floor. Moreover, 47 percent of the respondents who had not visited a casino or racino in the last 12 months said they would be more likely to visit a smoke-free casino.

Maybe we can count on that 47 percent to head to Winner’s Circle, the off-track betting site in downtown Indianapolis. The betting facility and bar is operated by Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson.

Smoking is banned in public places in Indianapolis, so gamblers can’t currently smoke at Winner’s Circle. The site had previously been exempted from the law but a Court of Appeals ruling voided the exemption for the satellite wagering facility from the city’s ban. Now, Hoosier Park is challenging the decision before the Indiana Supreme Court.

When the smoke clears, Indy’s ban should be applied to all public restaurants and bars inside the city limits. Exceptions shouldn’t be allowed when it comes to public health issues.

According to a court filing, the facility studied its clientele and found 47 percent smoked, meaning that at least initially, it “could not economically risk making the (OTB) smoke free.”

One of the major factors in banning smoking in casinos is to protect daily workers from secondhand smoke. Winner’s Circle is a tightly enclosed workplace. The facilities, which operate under state licenses, could possibly be banned by the legislature from allowing smoking; instead, many have non-smoking areas — accessible by walking through smoking areas.

For Hoosiers who have been to legal gambling sites, it’s generally accepted that people don’t go to casinos for a smoke. They go to gamble.

Laws banning smoke in public places should apply to facilities that operate in those cities and towns. That’s the price of doing business.