Monday, August 25, 2008

Smoking bans won't harm the economy . . .

Two Calgary gaming companies are demanding the province close a loophole in the Alberta smoking ban that permits gamblers to light up in First Nations casinos.

The problem, of course, is that the loophole isn’t in the Alberta anti-smoker legislation.

The $40-million Grey Eagle Casino which opened last December is situated on land belonging to the Tsuu T'ina Nation. The $60-million Nakoda Entertainment Resort, which opened this spring, was built on land belonging to the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

Both casinos invoked federal bylaw exemptions for Native lands, as is their right.

The Deerfoot Inn and Casino, and the Elbow River Casino, both in Calgary, report that earnings are down between 5% and 25% respectively. The Deerfoot Inn and Casino, claims it made almost a million dollars less in the second quarter of 2008, a loss of more than five per cent compared to last year. Now, Gamehost Income Fund which owns the Deerfoot Inn and Sam Switzer, owner of the Elbow River Casino want the province to “level the playing field”.

"People who smoke like to gamble, and of course they'll go where they are able to smoke if the option is there for them to do it," said Craig Thomas, Gamehost's chief executive.

Harry Chase, Alberta MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly), is sympathetic to the plight of the non-native casino owners. "I would love to see a blanket ban," he said. "Being able to play the federal regulations against the provincial regulations is an unfair advantage."

The solution, according to the Calgary casino operators and the politicians, is to find a way to force or otherwise coerce the native casinos to comply with the provincial smoking ban and prohibit smoking in their casinos. Les Hagen, executive director for the anti-smoker group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), is in agreement, saying: "There should be health protection for all hospitality workers".

Alberta’s casinos aren’t the only ones losing money due, at least in part, to the smoking bans being implemented across the country. Casino Windsor workers in Ontario were forced to accept a new three-year contract which included a wage freeze in the first two years with an hourly raise of 30 cents per hour in the third year.

The casino has seen revenues drop in recent years due to the rising value of the Canadian dollar and the Smoke Free Ontario Act. Across the river, in Michigan, casinos may still cater to smokers, giving Michigan an advantage in attracting smoking clientele. Casinos located on native land in Ontario are also exempt from the smoking ban.

But, forcing casinos on native reserves to prohibit smoking isn’t the solution. It may level the playing field as far as the Calgary casino operators are concerned, but it will not bring smokers back to their casinos in any great numbers. It will simply mean that the native casinos will suffer similar losses in revenue as their non-native counterparts.

Smokers still want to smoke. And, if they have to leave the tables or the slot machines to have their cigarettes, they will. That means they’ll spend less time (and money) gambling while they trot outside to have their smoke.

The Great Canadian Gaming Company, which operates casinos in Halifax and Sydney, managed to offset losses by reducing staff and shortening operating hours. Between 100 and 120 jobs were cut in Halifax alone. They have no competition from native casinos. Milton Woensdregt, Great Canadian’s chief financial officer, said that the problems in Nova Scotia included severe weather, the smoking ban and the province’s anti-gaming messaging.

Economic impact studies conducted prior to implementation of the smoking bans warned of economic losses in these areas, but they were ignored. According to Ontario’s Ministry of Health Propaganda, the only studies which suggested any adverse consequences to casinos, or the hospitality industry in general, were those sponsored by tobacco interests or the hospitality industry. So, government relied solely on studies done by the anti-smoker groups and implemented the smoking bans on their assurance that economic losses would be short term and that non-smokers would start flocking to the non-smoking venues.

It hasn’t happened.

Officials with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission said they would prefer to see First Nations casinos follow the rest of the province. "The whole idea was to protect all Alberta from second-hand smoke," commission spokeswoman, Christine Wronko, commented on the smoking ban. "The First Nations are working with federal legislation, and we have no say in it at all."

There are, in fact, two problems with the position of the casino operators and the politicians. One is that they have not yet proven that secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard, and two, native communities across the country will be wary of any deal in which they are required to surrender treaty rights.

As far as leveling the playing field, the second of these problems is justifiably the bigger of the two.

Maybe they should deal with their first problem first; stop kowtowing to the anti-smoker fanatics, review the science, and ban the bans.


Vince Harden said...

The main proponents of smoking bans have always been a)people that are making alot of money from it & b)bigots.
There is not now,nor is there ever likely to be,any credible "science" that can show any "harm" from ETS (secondhand smoke).
Back when "tobacco control" had some credibility,ETS was consistently found to be of no risk to anyone.Now all credible researhers,including Doll & Peto et al,have been pushed aside by the corrupt entity that so called "tobacco control" has become.Granted there still may be some tobacco researhers with some ethics,but they have been forced to toe the current lie by the dispicable current regime.Where are their ethics? What happened to their hypocratic oath? What happened to "I shall do no harm"? I ask this because they & the bigots,by practising their brand of "ethnic cleansing" are causing great harm.This includes death by smoking ban.It appears this is alright with them just as long as the "right" people are dieing,or getting raped,robbed because of ridiculous taxation,or assaulted.There is also the humongous cost involved with their hate crimes,but why should they care? They're making alot of money.

snowbird said...

Level playing field??
Natural market forces decide the 'level playing fields.'
When government intervenes then everybody loses money