Iowa casino companies make case for allowing customers to light up
By Forrest Saunders, Multimedia Journalist - email
DES MOINES, Iowa (KTIV) -
Iowa casino heads say a smoking ban in their establishments will hurt their bottom line. That's the message they gave to lawmakers at their annual visit to the state capitol building, called gaming day.
It's an opportunity for the managers and operators of Iowa's casino's to meet one-on-one with lawmakers.
"Maintain a good strong rapport," said Wes Ehrecke, CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association.
Wes Ehrecke is the man behind "gaming day." He says one of his biggest goals is to get lawmakers to understand just how important gambling is to the state.
"We're a $1 billion dollar annual economic impact, when you factor in the wages and benefits, the charitable contributions, the Buy Iowa First program, as well as taxes paid," said Ehrecke.
Casino heads also got the chance to talk to lawmakers about legislation in the works. A big issue for many, a policy proposal that would kill Iowa casinos' exemption from the state smoking ban, passed in 2008.
Supporters say banning smoking in casinos would benefit public health, but casino officials say it'll impact their bottom line. They argue if smoking is banned, smokers will leave and head to tribal casinos not bound by state law.
"It's something that would decrease our revenue by 20%, and that would obviously impact the state revenues," said Grand Falls General Manager Sharon Haselhoff.
Managers at the Grand Falls Casino Resort, near Larchwood, say they like giving smokers a choice. They've split their gaming floor into smoking and non-smoking sections and have invested a lot of money to keep air as clean as possible.
"We spent about $1 million on our ventilation system, so the air is turning over every three minutes. We have air going under every slot bank, every table game. That really helps with the quality of air," said Grand Falls General Manager Sharon Haselhoff.
Time may be running out for the policy in this legislative session. Any smoking ban bill needs to get through committees before the "funnel" deadline on Friday, March 8.
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