Creating Profitable and Pleasurable Spaces for Smokers and Clean Air Advocates – Part II of II

Smoking at Casinos

Whether it’s the law or a shift …

Creating profitable and pleasurable gaming spaces for smokers and clean air advocates

Last July, we sat down with Raving Partner, John Stewart, to talk about the industry’s increasing demand for outdoor gaming patios (read the article here) due to government legislation as well as voluntary non-smoking bans. John’s team at Encompass had just finished up several outdoor gaming patios, including one of the largest in the country at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.

Right now, there are more nonsmoking commercial casino states (18) than casino states that allow smoking (six). The smoking states – Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi – are the nation’s largest commercial gaming revenue producers per last fall’s article by Howard Stutz, Las Vegas Review Journal.

However, there are several casinos in the smoking states, as well as exempt tribal casinos, that are voluntarily changing to smoke-free, or grappling with how to provide both options. For example, one of the pioneers in creating a totally smoke-free tribal casino, Win-River Resort & Casino in California, just added back smoking to 30% of their floor. So the challenge continues.

How do casinos provide clean air for their non-smoking guests and employees, and how can casinos give smokers what they want as well without seeing decreased revenues (at least in the short-term)?

Raving – Since your project at Mountaineer last summer, have you done more outdoor smoking patios? What more have you learned?

JS – Yes, we have done two additional smaller outdoor smoking patios. Each state (and in some cases, county or city) has their own regulations. This means that when we do a smoking venue in Cincinnati, OH and then one in PA, the requirements are different. We have learned to work closely with the regulators on these as well BEFORE beginning the project. We have also learned to make these spaces a true amenity, not just a roof with some slots. Think of adding some features like a fire pit, comfortable seating and a unique bar. Make sure that there is good air flow in summer and winter.

Raving -What are the biggest surprises that casinos have in store for them when they are considering outdoor gaming spaces?

JS – I would say it is less about the surprise, and more about being prepared. If you decide to do this, market it as a big positive. What could be better for the non-smoker than taking the smoking completely outside of the enclosed space? What could be better for the smoker than to be outside, on a beautiful day, in the shade with a breeze, a drink in hand, playing cards or a slot machine? If a tribe is going to make a move like this, we would recommend establishing some regulations that benefit the casino, the non-smokers and the smokers, and the employees.

Raving – Let’s be honest, can casinos provide a “clean air” space with smokers under one roof? Are there any alternatives that really work?

JS – We’ve done quite a bit of research on this lately. One gaming company had us study all of their 11 casinos for improving indoor air quality this year. Here is what works the best and is the only alternative that should be considered. Bring in outside air and exhaust the air on a frequent basis. There are energy recovery devices that make this more feasible financially. Even in very hot climates, the outside air is essential. It gives your customers and employees much needed oxygen, the smoky air is exhausted instead of being re-circulated and it keeps carpets and fabrics smelling better. There are alternatives like ionization, air cleaners, trying to filter the smoke, and masking with scent generators, but not one of these is truly the safest and best solution. Changing the air is the only solution that works other than a smoking ban. If someone would like more information on how to take the first step in this, we would be happy to discuss the right solution for their specific property and conditions. Climate makes a big difference in the approach.

Raving – So are you saying that if you don’t smell smoke, that doesn’t necessarily mean the air isn’t carcinogen-free?

JS – Yes, the carcinogen-free air is clean air that has not been smoke filled and filtered. Like I mentioned in the previous response, this, in a smoking casino, will be air that is brought in from the outside and conditioned. Air that doesn’t smell smoky could still contain carcinogens. There are companies that have ways to treat the smoke-filled air with filters and other chemical and electrical means, but there is not one that is recommended, nor are they considered safe according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the recognized authority on this topic.

Raving – One of Dennis’ complaints about non-smoking sections is that most casinos typically allocate a very small area, meaning there are limited games to attract players, and limited bodies, reducing the energy of the space. Are there any design concepts that you can do to make a small space feel “luckier” or give a “this is the place to be” vibe?

JS – Yes, As I mentioned about the smoking patios, treat these areas with a couple of special features. You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a special place. Change the lighting in the area, add a small soft seating area so it is inviting. As you’d approach any new bar, restaurant or amenity, you need to market it and make it a unique, inviting space.

Raving – We see the younger crowd frequenting , perhaps not our gaming floors, but our hotels, clubs and restaurants; what have your studies shown about them accepting non-smoking spaces?

JS – We’re seeing the younger crowd preferring non-smoking venues (keep in mind that many have grown up used to these restrictions that other generations did not) almost to a point of demanding them. Giving those that do smoke a place to go is still important.

Building projects don’t have to go over budget and be delayed. So what comes first? The architect or the contractor? The amenity study or professional blue prints? Before you spend one dime on your expansion or your new project, contact John Stewart at [email protected] — he and his team will lead you through the process.

John Stewart