Atlantic City Smoking Ban Study All Smoke and Mirrors?

Written By Derek Helling on March 1, 2022 - Last Updated on March 7, 2022
Study For Smoking Ban At New Jersey Casino Outcome

As more New Jersey pundits weigh in on the issue of a ban on smoking inside the state’s casinos, opponents of the potential prohibition are flexing their monetary muscles. A recent smoking ban study is proof of that investment.

The report from the Spectrum Gaming Group suggests that a ban on smoking would have a detrimental effect on casinos’ bottom lines. When consuming the results, it’s important to note what is behind the study.

Smoking ban study suggests up to 11% drop for Atlantic City

For the study, Spectrum looked at casino revenue figures from the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement. It also spoke with casino employees, casino executives, customers, and anti-smoking advocacy groups.

Additionally, it looked over similar figures for other states that passed smoking bans. Casinos in New Jersey can offer indoor smoking on up to 25% of their casino floors. A bill in the state legislature would repeal that allowance.

Spectrum’s report suggests that if that becomes law, Atlantic City casinos could lose up to 11% of their annual revenue. It also says that the change could cause the casinos to lay off up to 2,500 people.

The report said that people who smoke represent 21% of casino patrons in Atlantic City. It also suggests that they are worth more than non-smokers because they spend more on amenities while they are in the casinos and tend to lose more money.

It all paints a gloomy picture if you simply read the report with no consideration for its context or the reason the study happened. That context and motivation are crucial to objectively consuming the report and its findings.

What’s behind this study in New Jersey?

The first and perhaps most important thing to note is that the Casino Association of New Jersey commissioned this study. The study’s objective was to ascertain whether casinos in Atlantic City claim that a smoking ban would negatively affect their businesses has any basis in reality.

According to Spectrum’s findings, it does. It’s imperative to note a few things, however.

First off, the report acknowledges that some people avoid casinos because of the smoke in the air and would be more likely to visit and/or spend more time there if the venues were smoke-free. The study states that would not make up for the loss of smoking customers, however.

At the same time, the study posts that 13% of people who smoke in AC casinos would continue to visit even if the state ends casinos’ smoking ban exemption. It’s possible those people might play or spend less, though.

There’s a big piece of important context that the report largely glosses over. That’s the fact that these very casinos just went through a period when smoking wasn’t allowed and showed they can perform not only as well but actually better than they are now.

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Atlantic City casinos didn’t suffer during temporary smoking ban

From July 2020 to July 2021, casino patrons in Atlantic City couldn’t smoke inside. The casinos’ capacity was also limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their amenities were cut and hours shortened. Customers had to wear face masks while indoors as well.

Amidst those changes, the casinos actually outperformed their previous numbers.

In the first quarter of 2021, Atlantic City casinos combined to take 11% more revenue than they did in the first quarter of 2019. That falls in line with what casinos in other venues have seen. American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller said that casino operators did not see “detrimental effects” from temporary bans.

The big question is can casinos expect customers to behave the same way if a permanent ban goes into place? Did casino patrons in Atlantic City treat the situation as extraordinary and overlook the lack of smoking availability?

Spectrum’s study suggests that AC casinos have a reason to fight the smoking ban. That’s exactly what they did by commissioning this study.

Photo by F11photo / Shutterstock.com
Derek Helling Avatar
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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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