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Gamblers adjust to smoke-free Illinios casinos

23 January 2008

Casinos in Illinois went smoke free on January 1 in compliance with the state law that prohibits smoking in every public place, every place of employment, and within 15 feet of entrances to public places.

Given the fact gambling traditionally has been an activity that is harmonious with the tobacco culture, special interests within the gaming industry have argued that casinos should be exempted from the law.

Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, is predicting a dramatic drop in revenues, especially with gambling destinations in Northwest Indiana so close.

"We are still trying to get an exemption to the legislation to allow smoking in the casinos for five years, or until the bordering state closest to the casino passes similar legislation, and to allow that smoking only on the gaming floor," Swoik said.

When Nevada passed a state-wide smoking ban, casino floors were exempted.

Non-smoking casino goers represent a significant influence. Many welcome the ban, even though a majority of properties have installed state-of-the-art air filtration systems thath keep the interior atmosphere relatively clean and smoke-free in spite of the number of patrons who light up.

Darren VanDover, senior vice-president and general manger of Harrah's Joliet Casino & Hotel, told me that surveys indicate one-third of customers at his property are smokers, but he preferred to look at the bright side by noting that a two-thirds majority are non-smokers.

"We are looking at this as an opportunity to attract guests who don't smoke," VanDover said. "Harrah's Entertainment advocates healthy lifestyles, but we would prefer a smoking ban be enacted as a federal law and not by individual states."

VanDover said that plans are underway to construct a 1,000 sq. ft. climate-controlled smoking enclosure in compliance with the law off the casino floor. Until that's completed in the spring, a tent facility that patrons must access by going outside the main entrance to the casino will have to suffice.

Access to the permanent smoking enclosure at Harrah's Joliet will be through a walkway located adjacent to Aces Diner.

The Grand Victoria in Elgin, which is the only remaining riverboat facility among the four Chicago-area casinos in Illinois, has the luxury of creating smoking accommodations in compliance with the law on both ends of the outer deck, which already has overhead protection as part of the vessel design.

"Grand Victoria will do everything it can, within the law and Coast Guard regulations, to create a comfortable environment for our smoking guests," said spokesperson Marilou Pilman. "Plans are being finalized to provide guests with heat during the winter and protection from the elements, to the best of our ability. We are highly sensitive to the inconvenience that this act will inevitably create for our smoking patrons."

Smoke shelters accessible from the casino floor have been created outside of the doors at the east and west ends of the Hollywood Casino in Aurora, which is single-level barge facility.

Several screened-enclosed smoking shelters were developed at the twin-level Empress Casino Joliet. Equipped with overhead heat lamps and patio-style seating, they are relatively accessible and convenient, given the strict regulations.

CASINO NEWS: Hollywood Casino Aurora's new $100,000 Cash Invasion Giveaway features $35,000 cash drawings on January 26, February 23 and March 29. The promotion also includes $7,500 in bonus cash drawings. For information about Hollywood's player card program, stop by the promotions booth or visit www.hollywoodcasinoaurora.com.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp