Despite smoking ban, some casinos boost admissions - Thursday 14th of February 2008

Despite statewide drops in gambling receipts, three of the state’s nine casinos had increases in admissions when comparing January 2007 to January 2008.

Argosy’s admissions for January 2008 were 3 percent higher than they were in December 2007 — jumping from 103,480 to 106,675. January 2007 admissions were 115,237.

Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association in Springfield, said admissions counts can be misleading, though.

Whenever someone enters a casino in Illinois, he or she is “counted,” and the facility must pay the state $3. The money is divided between the state and location city.

Casinos recently got the right to set up “re-entry” lanes for people to use who already were counted, but who leave the gaming boat briefly to smoke outside.

“If they use the re-entry line, they are not charged a tax, but there is no incentive for patrons to use the re-entry line,” Swoik said. “If they see five people in front of them in the re-entry line, they will go to the other (regular) lane. This skews the admissions” numbers, counting the same person each time he or she comes back after a smoke break if they don’t use the re-entry lane.

Also, he said some casinos don’t have separate “re-entry” points, so they count smokers each time they re-enter the riverboats. He also said the admission numbers would correlate differently with adjusted gross receipts, as the patrons are outside smoking — and not gambling — when before the ban, they would be doing both at the same time.

At Argosy Casino in Alton, smokers can go to outdoor smoking areas off the first- and third-level decks while staying behind the main entry turnstile, so they are not counted each time, and there is no need for a special re-entry lane.

The other effect on admissions is that states bordering Illinois, such as Missouri, draw Illinois gamblers because of new facilities, or different offerings and lack of a smoking ban.

Opponents of the smoking ban, which took effect Jan. 1, predicted that casinos might suffer the after-effects. The casino industry actively lobbied against the bill that the Illinois General Assembly passed last year.

Some of the drop in admissions may be attributed to some degree to increased area competition. The new Lumiere Place casino in downtown St. Louis opened its doors Dec. 19. The state of Missouri has no smoking ban in place, although there has been some discussion.

Monthly statistics for Missouri casinos had not yet been released by the Missouri Gaming Commission.

Every casino in Illinois saw a drop in adjusted gross revenue during the comparison of January 2007 and January 2008 — an average of 17.46 percent. East Peoria was down 9.63 percent; Rock Island was off 17.8 percent; Joliet-Empress was off 28.58 percent; Metropolis was down 19.17 percent; Joliet-Harrah’s was off 15.62 percent; the Casino Queen in East St. Louis was off 2.19 percent; and Elgin was off 19.89 percent.

Not all of the casinos, however, were down in admissions in the January-January comparison. East Peoria, Joliet-Harrah’s and East St. Louis all were higher, with increases of 3.49 percent, 5.96 percent and 10.52 percent, respectively.

The average of all the casinos, though, shows an admission loss of 5.86 percent when comparing the two months.

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