Friday, January 23, 2009

How Culver's infrastructure plan could kill state smoking ban

State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, tells me I'm not the only one who sees Gov. Chet Culver's $700 million state infrastructure or stimulus plan as potentially killing the six-month-old state smoking ban.

If the state ties debt to gambling, as Culver suggests, the smoking ban exemption for casinos would enter a whole new off-limits level. Taken alone that doesn't change anything for bars, which have some legitimate gripes, particularly ones in close proximity to the casinos smokers covet as sort of a last refuge.

But should a court case rule the Iowa casino exemption as out of line, lawmakers, who had tied the state's finances to casino money, may have to opt to just kill the entire ban rather than add gaming houses to it and risk the financial fallout.

Having just been to a casino, Prairie Meadows in Altoona, last Saturday, I can tell you that smoking is a big part of business there, and trust me, many of the smoker-patrons aren't going to be content with stepping outside for a quick nic hit and going back to the tables or slots. The industry relies on the smoker in Iowa.

It's one thing to hurt casinos with the ban, but if the state goes deeper into bed with the industry by tying debt to its fortunes, can it stand by and absorb the effect of the 20 percent loss or associated with smoking ban -- the number it went it down in Illinois after the ban? More people than me should be thinking about this.

Here is The Chicago Tribune:

What is clear is that casino business is down since the ban started. Revenue at Illinois casinos dropped 20.2 percent between November 2007 and November 2008, according to the most recent figures available from the Illinois Gaming Board.

Several factors are to blame, among them the weak economy.

“But the majority of the decrease has been as a result of the smoking ban,” said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

Swoik points out that casinos in Indiana, Missouri and Iowa – neighboring states where smoking is legal in casinos – saw nothing like Illinois’ revenue drop, and he contends gamblers are leaving Illinois for casinos where they can smoke.

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