Gambling, smoking and tax revenues on the Nile

A study on second-hand smoke in casinos, including several in Reno, reveals health risks even to occasional gamblers and particulates from gaming areas making their way into nonsmoking restaurants. A study on second-hand smoke in casinos, including several in Reno, reveals health risks even to occasional gamblers and particulates from gaming areas making their way into nonsmoking restaurants. / (AP File Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison)

For most of my career in gaming I have been in denial, riding on that famous reed boat with Mubarak, Cleopatra and the infant Moses.  I have denied that casinos cause any serious problems for their customers.  I never met an addictive gambler, just degenerate gamblers that could quit gambling if they wanted;  but I never met any addicts who needed professional help not another drink.  I also denied the effects of second hand smoke, even after I quit smoking I thought the only harm from cigarettes comes from smoking and inhaling.  Quitting in my simplistic world was a moral issue – only weak people would continue to smoke and then they would die – as they deserved – from their vice.  While the rest of us could just sit around and watch, but incur no risk.

Silly and of course neither is true; we have learned much more about both addictions in the last few years.  Learned about the natural and the treatment of both addictions and we have learned enough to begin to make policies to help and in some cases protect addicts.  We have also reached a point when most jurisdictions formally recognize both addictions and the dangers of to the addict and also to those around them.  This week, Reno became the focal point of both discussions.  The Reno Gazette-Journal published a story by Bill O’Driscoll on a second hand smoke survey.  The survey was done by Stanford University and much of the research was conducted in Reno casinos.  Not surprisingly they found a significant risk to non-smokers, even in restaurants unless there was a solid barrier between the smoking areas of the casino and the restaurants.  That study may be news worthy, but it is old news to me.  My ex-wife, Maria died 4 years ago from lung cancer; it is true she had been a smoker for much of her adult life.  But it is also true she worked on the floor of a casino for 35 years, much of it with very, very poor ventilation systems – without ever smoking a single cigarette she still would have inhaled enough of other people’s smoke to contract lung cancer.  Anti-smoking policies and legislation are financially bad for some businesses, in particular bars and casinos; I feel that pain too, as I am part of a business that is experiencing significant revenue declines because of non-smoking regulations.  But human life is more important than business profits and smoking does kill; cigarette smoking kills the smoker, but it can also kill the people around the cigarette.

The second story was in the Reno News and Review and was written by Dennis Meyers- the article dealt with the treatment of gambling addiction in Nevada.  Even though Nevada was the first state to legalize modern casino gambling, it was one of the last to set up treatment programs at least partially funded by the casino industry.  The resulting treatment programs appear to be working.  According the News and Review: A new study shows a high success rate for Nevada’s new gambling addiction treatment program. The UNLV study of more than 400 Nevadans treated for gambling addiction found that 92 percent “either cut back or completely stopped gambling after treatment. Patients also made improvements in dealing with life issues and avoided harmful behaviors typically associated with gambling excessively.”

Now if Nevada would just deal with smoking in casinos as it has in other businesses.  But wait, now at this time?  The casino industry is in free-fall, the state has a budget  short  fall of a billion dollars or so .  Should we deal  with this now?  Those are our choices; to take another 15-20 percent hit in revenues; or to continue to allow people to suffer and die from the affects of smoking.  Illinois is reversing the process of prohibiting smoking in casinos; after three years of falling casino revenues and a budget crisis, as all states have, Illinois is in the process of legalizing smoking in casino.  If it does, it will be the first state to do so.  There are no easy answers are there?  Hell, I think I will have a shot of whiskey and think about it – oops, that can be addictive too; and now you know why I have wanted to  stay on that raft, floating down the Nile – the industry that has been my career is built around activities  that  can be  highly addictive and destructive when done in excess.


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March 2011
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