Despite Growing Support for Banning Smoking in Casinos, Vegas Ain’t Budging

A recent survey conducted by Vital Vegas and shows an overwhelming number of people support a ban on smoking in casinos.

The Twitter poll revealed 62.1% say smoking in casinos should be banned, while 30.8% say smoking should be allowed. The “no opinion” camp accounted for 7.1% of the respondents. It’s so weird to not have opinions about things, but fine.

A total of 12,477 votes were cast, a statistically significant sample size according to statisticians. For comparison purposes, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s annual visitor survey includes the opinions of about 6,200 people to represent 42 million Las Vegas visitors a year.

We told A.I. that casino ventilation systems tend to be better than this. A.I. asked if we’ve ever been to Dotty’s. Fair.

The debate surrounding smoking in casinos has intensified since hearings were held about a bill that would prohibit smoking in Atlantic City casinos.

The arguments on both sides of the issue were familiar. Guests and employees cite health concerns, casinos cite fears banning smoking will impact business and result in the loss of jobs and tax revenue.

Here’s the Twitter poll for posterity.

The survey results are remarkable for a number of reasons, and the discussion thread following the Tweet are enlightening.

While about 12-14% of Americans smoke, more than 30% of respondents believe smoking should be allowed in casinos.

The thrust of the argument is gambling and smoking are somehow linked, and casinos claim to have data to support that claim.

Many respondents say see Las Vegas as a symbol of personal freedom, and they include smoking among those freedoms, even if they don’t smoke.

It’s an ongoing source of bafflement that casinos are somehow different than planes or restaurants, where everyone seems to agree second-hand smoke is annoying and dangerous.

Longtime casino executives all have stories about casinos that have tried to go smoke-free, only to close soon after. For the most part, they’re drawing bad conclusions based upon false reasoning. In a market where a casino goes smoke-free, and others offer smoking, many gamblers will move to the casino with smoking. If all the casinos banned smoking, people wouldn’t stop gambling. People didn’t stop flying or dining out when smoking was banned in those venues.

Casinos do seem to have hard evidence smokers spend more (and greater “time on machine”) than their non-smoking counterparts, so there’s that.

Casinos are the main economic driver in Las Vegas, so it’s no surprise smoking isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

It’s supremely ironic casinos have a massive lobby, including the American Gaming Association, to fight the stigma of casinos and gambling, but they also make the case smoking, something incontrovertibly dangerous to smokers and others around them, is part of the casino experience. Casinos either believe smoking is harmless or harmful. That means they’re either profoundly stupid (the U.S. Public Health Service recognized the causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer in 1957), or callous, greedy and sociopathic. Awkward.

Is there any way to interpret the ongoing acceptance of smoking in casinos other than putting money before the health of customers and employees?

Park MGM is The Strip’s only completely smoke-free resort. Yes, we broke that story. Not everything has to be about us, though.

Park MGM smoke-free
The exception that proves the rule, whatever that might actually mean.

Plaza recently opened a casino expansion that’s smoke-free, but it’s not expected to be indicative of much, whether it’s a failure or success.

Hotels associated with Las Vegas casinos have quietly gone smoke-free, including MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, but in their rooms, not on casino floors.

Mirage recently killed off a non-smoking slot area, presumably because it wasn’t meeting expectations.

The pandemic did change smoking policies at some casinos, as there are more smoke-free sections, and some table games pits prohibit smoking, cigar-smoking and vaping.

While the support for banning smoking in casinos is considerable, the results of this survey were closer than one might have expected.

There are lots of variables with such polls, of course. A Twitter poll only includes people who use Twitter. Our followers are interested in casinos and casino culture, so aren’t really indicative of the wider population (many of whom have never been in a casino).

That said, 12,000 people is a significant sample size. The conversation about smoking and smoking bans is a fascinating one.

It feels like a kind of Bizarro World that our federal and local governmental health agencies, and worker protection entities like OSHA, responsible for protecting the health of Americans, can’t make inroads into a loophole where casinos are somehow impervious to medical science, common sense and simple courtesy.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.