Is the smoking ban really hurting Illinois casinos

After reading an article the other day about how revenue is down at Illinois casinos I once again had to wonder about the real cause of this. Of course the casinos would state that the smoking ban here in Illinois is the source of the problem. Some smokers might even agree. What interested me is that no one reporting this seems to do any actual research. I’ve done a limited amount of analysis of the situation and of course I’m ready to give my opinion. Once again I think we have an industry not being fully honest about what is taking place.

So once again I’m challenging the notion that a smoking ban is the full cause of reduced revenue. As with any business there are many factors to look at. You must look at the product being offered and how it is being presented to the customer. How the customer is treated is another variable that needs to be considered. When the smoking ban was enacted in limited areas business owners had a legitimate gripe about an unfair playing field. Now that the ban has gone statewide this is less of an issue. Unless of course you’re a spokesperson for an Illinois casino. These casinos feel that their smoking customers are going to border states where smoking is still allowed. In the case of Iowa a smoking ban for public places is in effect. However it would seem that Iowa casinos are exempt. Or I should say that the two Iowa casinos I have stepped into allowed smoking.

On the surface it would seem easy to blame the Illinois smoking ban for the reduction in revenue for casinos within the state. But I think there are many other factors that need to be taken into account. We have record gas prices in the United States and the economy hasn’t exactly been doing well for some time now. These are two parts of the equation that seem to get ignored when we read stories about lower casino revenues in Illinois. Of course over the years the two industries that have weathered economic storms the best are gambling and the sex industry. In a recent State Journal Register article a person was quoted as saying the other states have the same economy as we do in Illinois. This of course leads them and others to believe the smoking ban is the cause of reduced revenue. I would argue that each individual State actually has different economic factors. Although the nation as a whole is dealing with higher gas prices, loss of jobs and lower income.

But is it really the smoking ban pushing consumers to other states to play their chosen casino game? In areas where Illinois casinos border neighboring states that allow smoking this could be the case. If a smoker doesn’t have to drive all that much further down the road to play in a casino that allows smoking. Then they will most likely take their business there. I don’t think to many people would argue that this isn’t the case. However the casino I frequent in Illinois isn’t right on the border. Although with an extra hour or hour and half drive you can be in another state. The casino owners and representatives would argue that this is still close enough to cause a mass exodus of customers. However no one seems to look at things from the consumers point of view. Maybe it isn’t the smoking ban causing all of the problem after all. Could marketing and promotion actually be more of the issue?

Many in Illinois will say they see advertisements for casinos in their local newspaper, on television and plastered on billboards in their town. So many people would ask what more could they do to market to potential or current customers. Lets start with offering customers more for their money and offering those same people a better value. I’m a non-smoker but I can tell you that my money is going out of state because I feel there is a better value for the money we spend there. That statement should tell you something. What it should tell you is that maybe Illinois casino management is out of touch with it’s customer base. This should also tell you that it’s not only smoking customers taking their dollars out of state. Maybe if Illinois casinos are really concerned about reduced revenue it’s time to look at innovative ways of doing business. There are two things that will attract customers. Winning and perceived value for the cash being spent.

My personal experience has been this. I can’t remember the last time I won playing craps at the Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria, IL. However out of three visits to two different Iowa casinos I won twice at one and played close to seven hours at one table and only lost fifteen dollars of my buy-in at the other. My two wins were on the way out and back from Seattle. I played at the Argosy in Sioux City, IA. This casino has only one craps table now. In the past it had two. The dealers are friendly and both times there I didn’t have to deal with any drunks or any other drama. Their craps table also isn’t positioned to make playing a cramped experience. The Argosy doesn’t have an associated hotel so I can’t share my experience in that regard.

Now keep reading there is a reason for the sharing of my past adventures. Let us head to the Isle of Capri Casinos in Bettendorf, IA. This casino is about an hour or hour and half away from the Par-A-Dice in East Peoria. The Isle of Capri is a larger casino with two hotels. Isle of Capri also has more offerings in regards to food and drink compared to the Par-A-Dice. While the Isle Bettendorf has two craps tables the same as Par-A-Dice. These tables aren’t setup to where players will constantly be dealing with passerbys. Unlike how things are setup in East Peoria. The Isle way makes for a better overall experience. Not to mention the fact that again we have an Iowa casino that didn’t have a bunch of rowdy drunks at the tables. Along with the fact that you could play a fair game without losing your shirt.

For the money the hotel and food offerings were a better value at the Isle of Capri Casinos Bettendorf in my opinion. Granted in the time I’ve been doing business with the Par-A-Dice casino I’ve not paid for many rooms. Those that did require out of pocket expense were normally at a reduced rate. But I am aware of what the average room rate has been over this time. When comparing hotel rooms of both casinos for the money you would spend. The Isle of Capri offers you a much nicer room than the Par-A-Dice for almost if not exactly the same amount of money. This is the same case in regards to the restaurant offerings as well. I’ll do a full review of both locations at a later date. My point now is perceived value for the money you’re are spending. For me it makes more sense to spend an extra hour and half on the road and take my business out of state. Why? Because I feel I’m getting more for the same amount of money I would spend here in Illinois.

I don’t know to many people who will spend their money and get less for it if they can drive down the road a bit further and get a little more for the cash they are spending. It’s just basic common sense. Especially when times are tough. In Bettendorf I get a better hotel room, more food options and a less cramped playing area. Where do you think most players would go given these options? Now lets take a look at the local casino a few miles up the road. Are they really hurting as badly as they claim? The numbers say they are. And maybe if I asked the dealers there they would say the same. From what I have seen I would have to question this though.