Editorial: Casinos not above state smoking ban

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Gas prices set an all-time record, the economy tanked and Americans began to worry if their nest eggs would crack under the weight of a struggling financial system.

Yet when it comes time to assign blame for gambling being down in Illinois, casino operators trot out their favorite scapegoat: the Smoke-Free Illinois Act.

The legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability reported this week that casino gambling receipts were down $121 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30. While businesses across the state have adapted to Illinois’ ban on indoor smoking since it went into effect Jan. 1, the casinos are back clamoring that they must have an exemption or Illinois will face dire consequences.

Implicit in the casinos’ latest plea to become the lone exception to the smoking ban is a theme we find both amusing and outrageous: The casinos are doing Illinois a favor by operating here, and the state should therefore bend its laws to accommodate them. In other words, because the casinos were generous enough to pay $685 million in state taxes in fiscal 2007, Illinois must do everything it can to ensure that that figure does not fall, as it did in fiscal 2008 to $564 million.

“If we told McDonald’s they couldn’t use a flame to make their burgers, they wouldn’t be making too many burgers,” said state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, one of the most pro-gambling voices in the General Assembly.

Well, if gambling is to Illinois casinos what burgers are to McDonald’s, we can’t see the logic in Lang’s statement. No one is talking about removing blackjack tables or outlawing slot machines. But Lang’s words show the extent to which the casinos and their advocates will stretch to gain sympathy and a smoking ban exemption.

We have saidit before and we will say it again here: There is no industry in America that is more adept at convincing people to throw their money away. The glittering spectacle of the Las Vegas Strip was not built on the winnings of lucky Midwesterners. Somehow, casino operators for decades have managed to make losing money a thrill for millions of people. They have done this through creative marketing that deftly avoids the simple fact that when you gamble in a casino, you’ll probably lose. They have done this by coming up with ever more creative forms of electronic gaming and settings that grow more elaborate at every turn.

Why is it that such creativity seems to dry up when it comes to adapting to Illinois’ new indoor smoking rule?

Rather than looking for ways around Illinois’ law, the gaming industry should be preparing to face similar restrictions in more and more states. Illinois is one of 24 states with similarly strict indoor smoking rules. Ten other states have smoking bans in some but not all public indoor spaces. The trend in America — and in Europe, for that matter — is rapidly heading toward ensuring non-smokers’ right to breathe clean air rather than coddling the deadly habit of smokers. Casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., America’s No. 2 gambling Mecca, will go smoke-free on Oct. 15.

When Illinois legalized casino gambling in 1990, the companies that opened riverboats here didn’t do so in a spirit of altruism. They did it to make money, and they have done so in a big way. That paltry $564 million tax payment in fiscal 2008 didn’t come from casino losses.

The Smoke-Free Illinois Act made a simple declaration that said cigarette smoke is toxic and no one in Illinois should be forced to breathe it. That includes people in Illinois casinos.

State Journal-Register