Commercial Gaming

Smoke-Free Maryland Casinos Thriving, Gaming Outperforming Pre-Pandemic

Maryland casinos are faring better than ever before. And they’re doing so without allowing patrons to smoke on their gaming floors. 

A blackjack dealer and players celebrate at Live! Casino & Hotel in this 2014 file photo. Maryland casinos are reporting a strong pandemic recovery in terms of gaming revenue. (Image: The Baltimore Sun)

The casino industry has long advocated for the necessity of allowing gamblers to smoke. The two vices, some say, go hand-in-hand. But in Maryland, a state that has always banned casino smoking, gross gaming revenue (GGR) is booming in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Maryland’s six commercial casinos won $172.4 million in May. It was the state gaming industry’s all-time best month. June marked yet another solid showing. GGR last month totaled $161.5 million, 12.6 percent better than June 2019. 

Five of the six properties reported higher gaming revenue in June 2021 than they did in June 2019. Only Horseshoe Baltimore experienced a decline.

MGM National Harbor led the way with a GGR of $63.7 million, a 12 percent premium on June 2019. Live! Casino & Hotel was next at $58.4 million, a 19.4 percent increase, and Horseshoe Baltimore third at $17 million, an 8.9 percent decline from June 2019.

Ocean Downs, Hollywood Perryville, and Rocky Gap combined to win approximately $22.3 million. Each of those casinos experienced a double-digit GGR increase from 2019. 

Smoke and Mirrors in Recovery Legislation

The swift recovery of business at Maryland casinos is being used by anti-smoking advocates to pass legislation to end the clean indoor air loophole.

Casinos in Pennsylvania are allowed to designate up to 50 percent of their gaming floors for smoking. New Jersey’s Atlantic City casinos can allocate 25 percent for indoor smoking.

The casino industry says going completely smoke-free would negatively impact business, a contention that the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) rejects.

New revenue figures released this week for Maryland’s six casinos — all of which operate smoke-free indoors, thanks to state law — show how gaming operators can thrive while also protecting their employees and guests from the well-established dangers of even brief exposure to secondhand smoke,” an ANR statement to Casino.org read.

“Gamblers in the region have a clear alternative to breathing secondhand smoke while they play — they can go to Maryland. Unfortunately, most gaming employees cannot easily move their jobs to smoke-free casinos, which is why it’s past time for Pennsylvania and Atlantic City casinos to put their employees first and make smoke-free indoor air the permanent policy,” added ANR President Cynthia Hallett.

Casinos in 18 States Prohibit Smoking

Twenty-five states have commercial casinos and/or racinos in the US. Only nine are fully smoke-free. Smoking while gambling is fully prohibited in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and South Dakota. 

The editorial board of The Star-Ledger, the largest circulation newspaper in New Jersey, today called on lawmakers to fully ban indoor casino smoking.

Yes, we’ve heard the objections of the Casino Association of New Jersey, which says a ban on smoking puts them at a ‘competitive disadvantage.’ But they have yet to explain how profits at Atlantic City casinos were 11 percent higher in the first quarter of 2021 than in the first quarter of 2019,” the op-ed read.

“It must be a priority in the next [legislative] session. Casino workers cannot hold their breath forever,” the editorial concluded. 

Devin O'Connor

Gaming Legislation, Politics, Casino Business, Entertainment----Devin O’Connor’s passion for politics and background in the world of pop culture television give him insight into the gaming industry backstories that often drive news these days. After graduating from Penn State University with a theater arts degree, he worked at MTV Networks/Viacom from 2005 to 2010 as a writer and producer, where his credits included Total Request Live, New Year's Eve specials, and a special featuring poker superstar Daniel Negreanu. He later moved on to the HGTV/DIY Network, where he created, wrote, and produced three series specials: That's So House Hunters, That's So 80s, and That's So 90s. Devin came on board with Casino.org in 2014. He lives in Pennsylvania, and is an avid marathoner, having completed 15 races to date. Email: devin.oconnor@casino.org

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Devin O'Connor