How Will the Smoking Ban Affect New Orleans Casinos?

The city of New Orleans implemented a full ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, casinos, and other public spaces in April of 2014.

The purpose of the law was to extend existing statewide smoking bans within the city limits. The new law means it is illegal to smoke within five feet of everything from public parks to colleges and even the city’s jails and prisons.

The use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers is also considered smoking. So that’s banned too.

How do the operators of gambling venues in New Orleans feel about it?

They’re upset.

The Louisiana State Police, which oversees gambling in Louisiana, predicted that the state could lose $104 million in tax revenue and fees from the implementation of this ban. That number came from the Gaming Enforcement Commission’s notes on a study done on smoking bans in Atlantic City and Delaware gaming properties.

That study, which you can read as a PDF file here, accurately predicted a 12% decrease in revenue for the state of Delaware after a smoking ban in gambling halls in that state. Another arm of that study predicted a huge decrease of 20% in Atlantic City’s profits across a two-year period after a smoking ban in South Jersey, though that prediction hasn’t been tested yet.

Their argument is simple enough. As the New Orleans advocate puts it, “[Casinos, restaurants, and bars] argue that tourists come to New Orleans because they like to gamble and drink. The city is one of the last to allow smoking in some public places.” To take that away will change people’s attitude about New Orleans.

How many will simply decide not to come back?

What have they done about it?

Opponents of the ban have been active.

First, Harrah’s tried to delay the ban, claiming they needed more time to help their employees and customers adjust to the new rules. New Orleans City Council saw through that smokescreen (pun totally intended), shaming Harrah’s for trying to amend city law to benefit their own interests. For their part, Harrah’s is currently involving New Orleans in a difficult and costly lease renegotiation which has to be seen as an attempt at revenge on the part of the casino.

What Harrah’s did next was brilliant. Before the ban went into effect, the property made a huge show of becoming “the first smoke-free casino in Louisiana.” At midnight two days before the ban went into effect, they ceremonially removed ashtrays, handed out lollipops for frustrated smokers, and made a big to-do of their early adoption.

It was a brilliant move because they were planning a counter-attack the entire time.

Next, Harrah’s joined forces with many other local businesses affected by the ban and filed a lawsuit in civil court to strike it down. This action was more effective. It included several large local businesses (including Pat O Brien’s, Broussard’s, and several other New Orleans landmarks) and focused on the potential loss of revenue facing the city.

The hearing was scheduled for May 21. That lease negotiation Harrah’s is forcing on the city? It could cost New Orleans anywhere from $4 – $30 million dollars, which Harrah’s says is the cost of forcing the smoking ban on their successful gaming enterprise.

Who benefits from the New Orleans smoking ban?

I’m cynical, but not too cynical. This might smarmy, too.

I’m okay with that.

Here’s who benefits from the New Orleans smoking ban:

The people who visit bars, hotels, restaurants, casinos, and other public spaces all benefit.

We know secondhand smoke is dangerous. The American Cancer Society says secondhand smoke kills 42,000 people a year. It’s bad and you probably agree that it should be banned, unless you’re a libertarian or anarchist or something.

But beyond that – people these days don’t like to go places where smoking takes place. Times have changed – gone are the days when going home from your waitressing job smelling like a cigarette was no big deal because everybody smoked. These days, fewer people smoke, and the ones who don’t simply don’t want to be around it.

City Council Member Latoya Cantrell, who sponsored the law and has been vocal about her support for it, points out that secondhand smoke exposure costs the state millions of dollars a year in healthcare costs. That’s another angle to consider. It might be fiscally irresponsible to continue to allow smoking in public, at least according to the ban’s proponents.

So what’s going to happen?

Harrah’s is trying to put its money where its mouth is, threatening to shrink its state-mandated work force from 2,400 to 1,500. They’ve got legislation under consideration which would allow them to do just that.

With pressure on the city council from judges more than ready to rule in favor of existing liberties, it’s not totally clear that the city will be able to maintain the ban as it exists now.

Bartenders and business owners continue to make the same point – you’ll read it in this article from VICE and in this from the Guardian. What is going to happen when neighboring businesses get sick of the smokers pouring out of bars, casinos, and restaurants every few minutes? That seems to be the real threat to shop owners concerned about their customers getting up and leaving to satisfy their nicotine habit.

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that the ban is here to stay. I can’t find a single example of a city getting rid of a smoking ban once it’s been put in place. It just doesn’t happen. As for how the city will be affected, I’d predict that Harrah’s is going to continue making a stink until they earn an exemption from the New Orleans City Council.

That means the city will rule in favor of the civil rights of customers at a single business. That will be a weird day, indeed.

Servicing Your Air Conditioner Before Summer

If summer arrives as quickly as spring did, we’ll all need our air conditioners soon. Cold air is a modern luxury that many of us don’t want to do without during the hot summer months. Unless we properly maintain our air conditioning units, cool air may be a luxury we go without this summer. Here are four reasons to perform yearly maintenance on your air conditioner.
Efficiency: Time, age, and lack of use during the cold months cause air conditioners to wear down. Air vents and filters become clogged with dust and other debris. The result is a reduced ability for your air conditioner to circulate cold air throughout your house. In many cases, cool air may never reach the rooms in your home that are farthest from the unit.

Energy Costs: If your air conditioner isn’t running at maximum efficiency, you’ll be spending a lot more money this summer. If your Salt Lake City air conditioner is unmaintained, it uses more energy and runs longer than normal in order to cool your house. Added energy use and longer run times are most noticeable when it comes time to pay your electric bill.

Air Quality: In addition to cooling your home, your air conditioner is responsible for circulating air. Without proper maintenance, your air conditioner can’t do this effectively. Poor circulation leads to stagnant air as dust and moisture accumulate. Increased dust buildup occurs when air filtration systems are full or clogged and no longer filter air.

Safety: Poor air quality isn’t the only health concern caused by bad air conditioners. Each year, thousands of U.S. house fires are caused by air conditioners that are in a state of disrepair.

Each of these problems is preventable with a straightforward solution, annual maintenance. Hiring a certified technician to inspect and repair your air conditioner probably isn’t another bill you want to pay. However, yearly maintenance pays for itself in three ways, reduced energy costs, more efficient cooling, and increased air conditioner lifespan. A small investment now leads to big savings later.

It was mentioned in the beginning that summer is right around the corner. Don’t wait until the Salt Lake City summer hits to have your air conditioner inspected. Summer is the busiest time of year for technicians, and that means their availability goes down and their costs go up. Have your air conditioner inspected this spring and ensure that it’s ready to keep your house cool before the summer heat hits.

7 Things You Never Knew About Casinos

Americans love gambling. We spend billions of dollars every year at land-based casinos, from the high desert of Las Vegas to the riverboat casinos of the Mississippi Delta. Forty US states are home to at least one casino. Even conservative Texas has a casino within its borders.

The casino business has been booming for nearly 100 years. From its early days as a frontier distraction to the multi-billion dollar mega-businesses of today, casino gambling has enthralled Americans as long as it’s been available. But I bet you didn’t know all these cool facts about the casino business.

Read on for a fascinating look at how the betting industry really works.

1. Casinos lose money all the time
Sure, most players end up losing money. But you have to figure high cost of the property, staff, and complimentary items keep casinos from beating everyone. Of course those patrons who play very little or are accompanying real players make up a large portion of this group, but there are many players that are actually able to win over a long period of time. This group includes blackjack card counters, but the largest percentage is comprised of players who gamble just enough to qualify for freebies and complimentary giveaways like free rooms and meals.

2. They love winners
You might assume that the casino isn’t happy when someone cashes in a big jackpot. But that’s far from the truth. Think about it – do you want to play at a casino that never pays out big winnings or a casino that regularly advertises big prizes? Big wins are good for business, so don’t be surprised to see a bunch of smiles and glad-handing when the supervisor hands you a big progressive prize.

3. Card-counters are welcome … in Atlantic City
If you’re an advantage gambler of any type, you run the risk of getting kicked out of a casino in Las Vegas or most other parts of the country. Most casinos reserve the right to kick out anyone they suspect is counting cards or using other advantage techniques. But if you’re a card-counter and you want to use your skill freely, there is one place you’re welcome. Atlantic City is explicitly open to blackjack card-counters and other advantage bettors. How do they do it? They’ve adapted. For example, the rules for blackjack are altered to account for the impact of card counting tactics.

4. Think you’ve been ripped off? There’s an agency for that
Every legal casino in America is run by a regulatory agency. If you think you’ve been cheated, you can contact Gaming Control (or whatever agency runs the show where you were playing) and lodge a formal complaint. Just don’t use this service to whine about cold food or a broken elevator. Those particular complaints should be made to the casino’s manager, not to a government body meant to curtail casino cheating.

5. If you win big, you can ask for a check instead of cash or chips
This one surprised me – I’ve never seen it done before, and I’ve been in casinos plenty of times. Apparently, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a check if you have a decent-sized win. Basically, any hand-pay you get in Vegas or AC can be turned into a check, so long as you ask nicely and do it before you get your cash or chip pay-out. You can even get a combination pay-out, part in a check, part in cash, and part in chips. Remember – your casino is basically a service economy with you as its target. If you play a lot and talk sweetly to the employees, you can get pretty much whatever you want, within reason.

6. You need a current and valid photo ID on you pretty much at all times
Though some US casinos allow players in at age 18 (particularly in Alaska), the gambling age in pretty much every other US state is 21. To enforce that, the casino demands that all players have a valid photo ID on them at all time while on the floor. Don’t even try the old “Oops, I left my ID up in my room” trick. The casino can (and will) ask you to leave if you don’t have your ID on you.

7. Casinos have strict etiquette rules – including language restrictions
Contrary to the stereotype of the casino as a den of iniquity, gambling halls actually have pretty lengthy lists of rules and proper etiquette that you must follow. The quickest way to get a nasty look from your dealer or even a warning from the pit is to open your mouth and let one of those famous “four-letter words” slip out. My advice – act like you’re playing craps with your grandmother. You’ll be better off, and the other bettors around you will appreciate your kindness.