Northwest Indiana casino operator Majestic Star is threatening local officials in Gary on the dangers of implementing a smoking ban that would extend to its riverboat gambling floors.

Indiana casino Majestic Star smoking ban

The health of workers, or the health of a casino’s bottom line? The Majestic Star Indiana casino riverboat company says an indoor ban on tobacco will kill business. (Image: Majestic Star Casinos)

In 2012, Indiana enacted a statewide indoor smoking ban, but exemptions were provided for private membership clubs, bars and taverns were liquor sales outsell food, retail tobacco shops including cigar bars and hookah lounges, horse racetrack facilities, and casinos. Local towns, however, have the right to further expand the indoor smoking ban to such establishments.

The Gary Common Council is considering doing just that. Majestic Star CEO Peter Liguori warned the panel that a ban on smoking inside its two riverboats would result in the loss of 400 jobs, and cost the city and state $3 million annually in tax revenue.

The smoking ban ordinance is being pushed by a group called “Smoke-Free in the G.” Numerous casino employees attended the Council meeting, as well as protesters from the American Heart Association. Many were wearing shirts that read, “Every worker deserves the right to breathe smoke-free air.”

The nine-member Council will hold a public information session on the issue on November 21. The committee could vote on the ban at that time, a majority needed to pass the ordinance.

Majestic Star Tad Mundane

The riverboats Majestic Star I and Majestic Star II sit next to one another in Lake Michigan, some 30 miles south of Chicago. Combined, the boats have six floors of gambling, with approximately 1,700 slot machines, 70 table games, plus poker and baccarat rooms. Majestic Star II was formerly the Trump Casino, owned by now-President Donald Trump.

The Majestic Star casinos are the only casinos in Gary, but the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, Indiana, is less than two miles west. Another six miles northwest, and Caesars’ Horseshoe Diamond Riverboat presently takes in the most visitation and gaming dollars of Indiana’s 12 casino venues.

Liguori said smokers being forced outside at Majestic would simply encourage them to visit the nearby casinos. His threat that Indiana and the city would lose $3 million annually represents almost a third of the Mastic Star casinos’ annual total tax payments.

In 2016, the casinos paid a combined $9,919,198 in total tax. Of the four Northwest Indiana riverboats, the Majestic Stars pulled in the least number of visitors with 852,752 combined. Horseshoe led the way with 1.7 million patrons, followed by Blue Chip in Michigan City (1.15 million), and Ameristar at just over one million guests.

Revenue Up in Smoke

Smoking and gambling have gone hand in hand for centuries, but local governments have been taking steps to extinguish the harmful smoke in recent years.

In Macau, casinos are adapting to stricter smoking rules, including how designated smoking lounges are constructed.

In the US, casinos in Louisiana cities New Orleans and Baton Rouge are both barred from allowing patrons to smoke indoors. Harrah’s New Orleans, the only casino in the Big Easy’s downtown, says the smoking ban, which went into effect in April of 2015, cost the casino nearly $70 million in the first two years.