Despite ban, casinos accommodating smokers

January 2, 2008 4:28:59 PM PST
Wednesday is day two of Illinois' new smoking ban. The state's casinos are doing what they can to keep smokers from venturing too far from their tables and slot machines. In Joliet, outdoor tents are going up for smokers.

Casinos first came to Joliet about 12 years ago. Now, Harrah's and Empress casinos are making big adjustments to accommodate a sizable portion of their clientele who are affected by the ban on smoking indoors. Adjustments to keep them coming to their businesses and not casinos out of state.

The flashing lights in Harrah's casino shine a little brighter since there is no lingering haze of cigarette smoke. The state's new indoor smoking ban means that people who come to gamble can't light up. For some patrons it's a welcome change.

"It's fine by me. There were many times when I wanted to get up because there was somebody smoking on both sides of me," said Jo Bruno.

Now those smokers have to go outside, at least 15 feet away from the entrance to the casino. To accommodate them, Harrah's set up a heated tent, which will be replaced with a permanent structure in the spring.

Bob Block took advantage of the shelter but says the smoking ban may hurt the gaming industry's bottom dollar.

"When I'm out here smoking, I'm not in that casino spending money," said Block.

Harrah's was concerned that the smoking ban would snuff out some of their business. They estimate nearly 35 percent of their clientele smokes.

"The concern is that the people in the state of Illinois will take their gaming dollar and go to the state of Indiana," said Darren VanDover, Harrah's casino.

It's too soon to tell whether the ban is having an effect on business, but the casino is getting positive feedback as well.

"A lot of people say they'll bring their family members who would not have ordinarily come to the property because of the smoking. So hopefully we'll see some new business," said VanDover.

Joliet Mayor Art Schultz supports the smoking ban, although the city's two casinos bring in more than $30 million a year. The former smoker who lost his larynx to cancer says the bigger issue is making a health environment for the patrons.

"I'm concerned more about the health of our citizens from smoking than I am about the riverboats," said Schultz.

Harrah's says they plan to repaint and clean the carpeting and replace some of the furniture that's been there for a while to get rid of any remaining smell of smoke.

Outdoor structures for smokers have gone up at the other casinos around the state as well.