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Our Opinion: Don't allow smoking in casinos

Publication Date: 4/12/2011
  • Publication:The State Journal-Register

When you make your fortune from people who willingly, knowingly and repeatedly lose their money in your place of business, it's probably inevitable that you'll come to regard everyone you encounter as a sucker.

That's the only explanation we can conjure for the Illinois gambling industry's relentless assault on the three-year-old Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act.

Who can blame the industry for trying? Just as millions of people flock to the slots and tables in Illinois casinos every year knowing full well that the house will win, so do plenty of lawmakers fall repeatedly for the casinos' whining that the prohibition on smoking is costing the state money and should therefore be lifted for casinos.

The latest and most egregious example came March 29, when the Illinois House voted 62-52 for a bill that would exempt casinos from the smoking ban.

"We're putting our boats, our casinos at a competitive disadvantage. It's not fair -- they have been good corporate citizens to our state," said Rep. Daniel Burke, D-Chicago, who led the charge on the bill.

Hello, sucker!

Apparently the health of employees and nonsmoking customers in casinos is less important than in any other workplace to Burke and his 61 House colleagues --including, embarrassingly, our own Raymond Poe and Rich Brauer --who gladly bowed before the gambling industry on this bill.

And apparently Burke and his ilk don't look to Rock Island when seeking evidence for the industry's claim that the smoking ban alone has cost the casinos $800 million.

Until November 2008, Casino Rock Island had been pummeled by its across-the-river competition, Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa. It was that way long before Illinois' smoking ban went into effect in January 2008, and it became more pronounced after the ban. In November 2008, Casino Rock Island had its worst month of 2008 with adjusted gross receipts of $2.1 million. Rhythm City earned $4.9 million.

A month later, however, Rock Island's casino revenue soared to $5.5 million, a 161 percent increase. It has trounced its smoke-friendly Iowa competition ever since. Through March this year, Rock Island's casino revenue is $20.7 million on 326,535 admissions compared to $13.2 million on 221,120 admissions in Davenport.

How did this amazing feat take place in the face of Illinois' revenue-killing, casino-choking smoking ban?

The answer is uniquely American: competition. December 2008 marked the opening of Jumer's Casino & Hotel, a spectacular complex with a 42,000-square-foot casino, a 205-room hotel with 11 luxury suites, four restaurants, a nightclub and an event center.

Such a grand venture is far more expensive and risky than crying on the shoulders of lawmakers and pining for the good old days of uncontrolled secondhand smoke, but it works. In fact, it reminds us quite a bit of what Pinnacle Entertainment did when it built the luxurious Lumiere Place in St. Louis in 2007. Offer better amenities and you'll draw gamblers. What part of the free market do Illinois casino operators outside Rock Island not understand?

Illinois went to great lengths 20 years ago to change its laws and allow casino operators to come to Illinois and reap millions of dollars. The least these companies can do is abide by our laws. The least our lawmakers can do is understand that the smoking ban is a public health law that protects all citizens, even those who work and gamble in casinos.

The Illinois Senate should kill this bill accordingly.