Bingo and Smoking Bans-A Bad Mix

It is well known that bingo and smoking bans don’t mix. In 2007 the United Kingdom imposed a national smoking ban that decimated the land based bingo industry. Some land based hall lost over 60% of their regular players forcing them out of business. Many bingo halls tried various methods to keep smokers. A few halls set up outside smoking areas but inclement weather was a problem. One enterprising company offered shipboard bingo games outside British territorial waters but the ruse was not successful.

In the United States smoking bans have had an adverse effect on many charitable bingo games. In Ohio one Catholic parish was forced to raise parochial school tuition after bingo game attendance declined after the state imposed a statewide smoking ban. In Louisville Kentucky a man who runs charity bingo games said that a city wide smoking ban resulted in a 30% drop in attendance at bingo games. To make matters worse he has lost customers to commercial bingo halls outside of the city limits where smoking is allowed.

In Ontario Canada twenty local charities were forced to find other fundraising methods after a province wide smoking ban was imposed in 2009. Many local bingo halls closed and several employees found themselves out of work. In West Virginia a state Supreme Court decision upheld the right of county Boards of Health to ban smoking at charitable raffles. The state supreme court upheld a Harrison County Circuit Court decision that said the county Board of Health’s smoking ban takes precedence over a legislative rule that has been interpreted as allowing charitable raffles to allow smoking if a nonsmoking section is made available for nonsmokers.

The recent decision does not address smoking at bingo halls the rule allowing smoking at bingo halls contains the same language as the rule applying to charitable raffles. Charleston attorney John Hoblitzell, who represented the Harrison-Clarksburg Board of Health, says that the bingo exception is now invalid clearing the way for local boards of health to ban smoking at bingo games. Bingo hall operators fear that smoking bans could force them out of business. Smoking bans and bingo have never mixes well but there is one sector that has benefitted from smoking bans; internet bingo.

Following the imposition of the national smoking ban in the UK internet bingo operators reported a sudden surge in business. In the three years following the smoking ban many internet bingo operators reported an 80% increase in player numbers. Many online bingo sites donate to charity but they can never replace the games lost to smoking bans in the UK and the US.