Majestic Star Opposes Proposed Gary, Indiana Smoking Ban

Majestic Star Casino - Gary Indiana Smoking Ban

A similar smoking ban cost a Louisiana casino $70 million a year, the Majestic Star’s CEO claimed.

Peter Liguori, the Majestic Star Casino’s chairman, spoke at a hearing of the Gary Common Council this week to say a proposed smoking ban would cost his casino, the City of Gary, and the State of Indiana millions of dollars. Liguori recommended Gary’s leaders adopt a similar policy to a 2012 state smoking law.

In 2012, the state of Indiana established a statewide indoor smoking ban, though several establishments were exempt. The excepted sites included bars and taverns where liquor sales outsell food, private membership clubs, retail tobacco shops like cigar bars and hookah lounges, as well as horse racetrack facilities, and casinos.

Nearby Illinois also enacted a smoking ban in their casinos. The US Department of Health stated that the local municipalities have the right to expand the indoor smoking ban further, including the types of establishments in the Indiana smoking ban.

Gary, Indiana Smoking Ban

The Gary Common Council is considering expanding a smoking ban to a wide array of establishments, including local casinos. The Majestic Star, one of the top Indiana casinos within short driving distance of Chicago, opposes the ban.

The Gary-based casino claims a smoking ban would cost it tens of millions of dollars a year. Based upon that projections, CEO Peter Liguori warned the Gary Common Council that a ban on smoking inside its two riverboats facilities would result in a potential loss in city and state tax revenue of up to $3 million annually. Liguori added that the ban would cost up to 400 jobs, a figure which represents nearly half of the casinos employees.

Liguori was not the only one vocal about their opposition to the the Gary Common Council’s proposed ban. Critics wasted no time of their own in doing so as well.

Gary Common Council

Pete Liguori appeared before the Common Council last Tuesday to argue that establishing a new local law so draconian that it would surpass the state of Indiana’s law. The ban would prohibit the smoking by people gambling at the Majestic Casino would only end up driving people away to other casinos in Hammond and East Chicago – two other suburbs of Chicago which host casinos.

While the argument that state revenues would be lost can be argued, it is hard to argue that it would not contribute to the loss of local revenue for Gary.

Liguori noted that the Majestic Star’s casinos are already struggling to attract as many visitors as the four other riverboat casinos based in Northwest Indiana. In 2016, for instance, the Majestic Star casinos reported only 852,752 combined visitors, whereas the Horseshoe ($1.7 million), Blue Chip ($1.15 million), and Ameristar ($1 million) had much higher visitor numbers.

Everyone has an opinion:

The smoking ban was formally introduced to the Gary Common Council members last month, but they formally assigned the ordinance to the council’s Finance Committee at Tuesday’s meeting. At that meeting, they had little to say in the discussion with Liguori on Tuesday.

Majestic Star Casino Workers

When smoking bans are discussed, it often is couched in the rights of establishment’s workers to work in an environment without cigarette smoke. As the logic goes, while customers can come and go as they choose, non-smoking employees with few local job prospects might be forced to work in a smoke-heavy environment.

At the Tuesday meeting, Majestic Star workers gave the other side to that argument. Several employees spoke out about the potential expansion and expressed their fears of how they believe they would lose them if smoking ban expansion were to go through.

Yvette Kimbrough, a resident of Gary and 21-year employee at the casino, said, “It’s the only place that gave me an opportunity to work.”

Not everyone, however, offered the same support for Liguori’s views and opinions at the meeting. More than a dozen people came in wearing T-shirts reading ‘Every Worker Deserves the Right to Breathe Smoke-Free Air’.

Casinos Which Lost Due to Smoking Bans

Ligiuri cited figured from other casinos which faced smoking bans, including Louisiana casinos in both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which faced significant revenue losses. Harrah’s New Orleans experienced a $70 million hit to its revenue since a smoking ban came into effect back in April of 2015.

Smoking ban debates are not confined to the United States. Macau officials banned smoking in casinos in January 2015, leading to complaints from Cotai Strip casino executives. Eventually, it was revealed some casino managers looked the other way as patrons smoked, which led to new proclamations from Macau officials and public protests by Macau casino workers.

The Majestic Star executive added that he believes the Indiana Legislature handled the issue of enacting smoking restrictions adequately, because it exempted casino properties. When asked about hearing workers’ concerns, Liguori said he agreed with them speaking at the hearing, because they display, “the intertwined policies and economic realities that exist.”

Hearings on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21

No legal changes have been made on the issue yet. A hearing has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 20 at City Hall, which could go a long way to determining if the smoking ban proposal will be adopted. A public hearing on the issue also is scheduled for Nov. 21, which might have a bigger impact. The full Common Council that the November 21 meeting include a final vote on the Gary smoking ban proposal.