If you find yourself in Lafayette with a yen to play some blackjack or roulette, you are out of luck, because there is no casino there. Shoot, there aren’t even any slots closer than the Evangeline Downs racetrack in St. Landry Parish.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council thus did not have to fear any great loss of tax revenues when it considered a smoking ban last year. Bars and clubs in Lafayette nevertheless continue to let their patrons light up. A majority of the council took the view that government should not be telling people how to conduct their business.
That is fast becoming an un-American idea, as the anti-smoking forces go from triumph to triumph. The death and disability caused by smoking are regarded pretty much everywhere else as reason enough to impose a ban, and smokers have attained the status of pariahs.
New Orleans had banned smoking in bars and casinos a couple of months before the Lafayette ordinance was defeated. The Harrah’s casino and the Fair Grounds slots took a huge hit once the ban was imposed in New Orleans, with many a gambler evidently electing to lose money instead in the fug of Jefferson Parish.
Next up is Baton Rouge, where the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will take up a smoking ban next month. The resulting decline in takings will cost the city-parish about $2 million a year. That is according to a casino spokesman, whose objectivity might perhaps be open to question, but experience bears him out not just in New Orleans but across the country. Smoking bans at casinos mean lost business and jobs.
Clean-air campaigners always try to discount, or at least minimize, the economic impact of smoking bans by claiming that other factors play a role. According to Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, bad weather and the decline of the oil industry, for instance, might be blamed for the loss of revenues in New Orleans.
But it cannot be coincidence that takings are always down when smoking is banned, and if the health argument is so compelling, there is no obvious reason to pretend otherwise. Just say the lost bucks are a price well worth paying.
Still, we live in straitened times, and although half the Metro Council is sponsoring the smoking ban, the economic implications seem to have given the other members pause.
Last year, Baton Rouge casino taxes were worth $9.8 million to the city-parish and more than $60 million to the state. A poll shows 70 percent of the Baton Rouge public favors a ban, but, because it was commissioned by anti-smoking activists, that was no great surprise.
The financial consequences of the smoking ban in New Orleans, meanwhile, might become more severe yet if Harrah’s cuts its workforce. Under its contract with the state, Harrah’s is required to maintain a payroll of 2,400 and has failed in several attempts to reduce it over the years. But because business is now suffering as a result of the council’s intervention, the case for relief just got much stronger. Legislators have grown more sympathetic to the cause, and maybe Harrah’s can achieve a reduction without litigation.
Still, the ban would depress business even if smokers didn’t desert casinos, because they can’t lose money when they step outside. Thus, Harrah’s in New Orleans last year sought permission to build a courtyard with slots so patrons could smoke and lose money at the same time, as they did in the good old days. The courtyard plan is yet to see the light of day, but presumably, casinos will continue to seek ways of keeping smokers concentrated on the business at hand.
It will be a beguiling sight when desperate guys praying for luck play machines in the rain with cigarettes dangling from their lips.
You’d think from some of the more hysterical propaganda that the slightest whiff of secondhand smoke could kill you on the spot, but perhaps alarmism is required to persuade the public to accept the notion of behavior modification through government diktat. It certainly appears to be jake with doctors familiar with the ravages of tobacco, and it would go against the tide for the Metro Council not to pass an ordinance.
So, if Louisiana ever gets another casino, the obvious place to build it is Lafayette.
James Gill’s email address is email@example.com.