California Casinos Consider Smoking Bans as Calendar Turns to 2020

Written By Derek Helling on December 31, 2019
Smoking debate in California casinos continues

The comfort of customers is a primary issue for California casinos. On the subject of smoking tobacco, it’s harder for them to keep everyone happy.

The demand for smoke-free areas among casino patrons is growing. The debate already exists in some of the facilities in the Golden State.

Why California casinos are considering smoking changes

To be clear, there haven’t been any changes to the legal status quo. Federal compacts still exempt tribal casinos in California from state laws on tobacco smoking.

If changes come to policies at such facilities, they are voluntary. According to Michael Cabanatuan of the San Francisco Chronicle, that’s already happened.

Three of the Golden State’s casinos have already banned tobacco smoking. Whether that number increases largely depends on consumer habits.

Casinos around the country have changed their policies on tobacco smoking for two primary reasons. Those are employee welfare and customer satisfaction.

On top of being able to retain employees because they are more content with their workplace, banning tobacco smoking likely has another financial benefit. Casinos, like most other businesses, carry workers’ compensation policies and offer group health insurance policies to employees.

Removing a potential health hazard from the workplace lowers the costs of such insurance policies.

Keeping up with cultural non-smoking norms

On the customer satisfaction angle, there are several benefits to offering non-smoking gaming.

While many smokers create demand for smoking areas, most customers expect a smoke-free environment everywhere in California entering 2020. Because of that cultural norm, casinos must adapt.

There could be a way for casinos to mimic state governments on the issue. Instead of banning tobacco smoking, states have intentionally driven up the price of the habit by taxing the necessary goods at a high rate.

For example, casinos could ask patrons to pay for entry to a designated zone if they want to smoke. Some operators have taken that approach already.

Some casinos are trying to find a happy medium

Someone who traveled back in time to the mid-20th century would likely find many public places with partitions between non-smoking and smoking areas. Those included airports and restaurants.

Over the course of the 20th century, states banned the activity in any enclosed area. California is among them, but as previously mentioned, the ban doesn’t apply to tribal lands.

Casinos have been reluctant to voluntarily ban smoking out of fear of losing revenue from customers who prefer to smoke while they game. In an attempt to cater to both crowds simultaneously, casinos have revived an old practice.

In some places, that simply amounts to a sign denoting the boundaries of a smoking area while in others a sectioned-off non-smoking building with its own ventilation system is provided. To what extent these approaches work depends on how willing people on both sides are to accept the compromise.

Californians can vote on this matter with their wallets

Ultimately, it’s the casinos’ customers in the Golden State who will decide this matter. If patrons opt to play at non-smoking facilities over those that welcome smokers, the trend of eradicating tobacco smoking will grow.

On the other hand, if customers continue to largely ignore or demand the freedom to smoke, the status quo should remain. Just as Californians may vote on legalizing sports betting at the ballot box next year, Golden State residents and visitors will “vote” on this matter with their wallets.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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