The city-parish could lose about $2 million a year in revenue from casinos if a proposed smoking ban passes, and the state about $12 million, an executive with the parent company of L’Auberge Hotel & Casino says.
Smoking bans in New Orleans, Colorado and Illinois resulted in casino winnings falling by about 20 percent, said Troy Stremming, a spokesman for Pinnacle Entertainment, L’Auberge’s parent. Baton Rouge will likely see a similar drop, he said.
“Budgets are tough at the city level and the state level. A significant reduction like that, you have to find places where you’re going to cut to offset the reduction in the tax revenue,” Stremming said.
Baton Rouge’s two other riverboats are waiting for the smoke to clear, so to speak, before jumping into the debate.
“We haven’t even seen what’s being introduced yet,” said Joel Loots, a spokesman for Hollywood Casino. “We’ll take a look at it when it comes out and go from there.”
Diane Spiers, a spokeswoman for Tropicana Entertainment, owner of The Belle of Baton Rouge, declined to comment.
Last year, $9.8 million of the city-parish’s $830 million budget came from casinos. During the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, the state got more than $60 million from Baton Rouge casinos.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council is expected to vote on the proposed smoking ban in April. Five of the council’s 12 members are sponsoring the ordinance.
Harrah’s Casino New Orleans did see a couple of months where winnings plummeted by close to 30 percent after the smoking ban. But Louisiana Gaming and Control Board reports show Harrah’s winnings fell by 10 percent in the 10 full months since the smoking ban.
Stremming said Pinnacle opposes the Baton Rouge ban and is hoping other Metro Council members will too, once they weigh the potential economic impact.
Proponents say tobacco companies are the only ones who lose with a smoking ban.
Smoke-free has become the norm in the United States, said Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers Rights. Most bars and restaurants don’t allow smoking.
“There are now more than 800 smoke-free casinos and other gambling venues in the United States,” Frick said.
Twenty-one states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban smoking in casinos, he said. More than 83 percent of the U.S. adult population does not smoke. People expect their workplace and entertainment venues to be smoke-free, he said.
Frick said a number of major casinos, with hundreds of millions invested, have realized that there are ways to accommodate smokers without harming other people.
All it takes is creating conveniently placed outdoor smoking areas, where people can step out, light up and come back in, he said. Harrah’s had 90 days to prepare for the ban but spent much of that time fighting the law rather than working on its outdoor smoking patio, he said.
Frick said while Harrah’s has blamed its revenue drop on the smoking ban, lots of variables played a role, ranging from conventions and weather to regional competition and the oil and gas industry’s decline.
The proposed Baton Rouge ordinance is set to be introduced at Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting. The ordinance follows a monthslong campaign, featuring billboards, radio ads and other ads seeking support for smoke-free workplaces.
Stremming said Pinnacle wants its casino to be able to compete on a level playing field.
Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.