Harrah’s Protests New Orleans Smoking Ban

New Orleans' smoking ban will take effect April 22, but Harrah's New Orleans (l.) officials hope they can persuade the city council to allow it to offer special smoking areas and improved ventilation systems. The city could lose $3.8 million in casino tax revenue and a half-million dollars in sales tax revenue, officials said.

Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans has asked the city council to reconsider its smoking ban that goes into effect on April 22. The ban will cover bars, hotels, sports stadiums and restaurants in Orleans Parish—including Harrah’s, Louisiana’s only land-based casino and its second-largest gaming revenue producer, generating .2 million in gaming revenue in January, just behind Pinnacle’s L’Auberge Lake Charles, which reported .4 million for the month.

In January, an attorney for Harrah’s New Orleans told city council members that with a smoking ban the city could lose up to 20 percent, or $3.8 million, in annual gaming revenue plus more than $500,000 in sales taxes. The ban still passed unanimously. Jan Jones Blackhurst, Caesars Entertainment senior vice president of public affairs, said gaming tax dollars go toward funding police and firefighters. “A lot goes to the police for the French Quarter. I’m sure the state will not be too happy,” Blackhurst said.

She noted the company is crafting a proposal that would make half of the casino’s 115,000 square foot gaming floor nonsmoking. Also, the casino would improve its air ventilation system. “We know people don’t like smoking, but there is an impact on revenue when it’s banned,” Blackhurst said.

Harrah’s spokeswoman Jade Russell said the other two casinos in what Louisiana considers the New Orleans market are located in nearby Jefferson Parish, which is not affected by the smoking ban. Russell said, “The ordinance itself places us at an unfair disadvantage. You can drive to Biloxi. You can drive to Baton Rouge. You can drive to Lake Charles”–locations of casinos that allow smoking.

Councilman James Gray noted both sides brought data to the smoking-ban debate. He said supporters of the ban said revenue would rise because nonsmokers would now go to the casino. “None of us can be sure what the dollar value will be, but what we are sure about that is we’re saving lives,” he said.

In the U.S., of the 23 states with commercial casinos, 18 prohibit smoking, where smoking was commonplace and then banned. When Delaware implemented a smoking ban in 2002, gaming revenues dropped 11.3 percent. In Illinois, casino revenues fell 20.9 percent following the passage of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act in 2007.