Have Smoking Bans Helped or Hurt the Bingo Industry ?

It’s no secret that many bingo players are seniors and some are smokers. Seniors grew up in an era when cigarettes were advertised openly on radio, television and in magazines and newspapers. There were even billboards along most major highways advertising cigarettes. During World War Two some tobacco companies gave free cigarettes to servicemen creating a new generation of smokers. Back then there was little convincing evidence that smoking and secondhand smoke was harmful. In the early 60’s scientific evidence clearly showed that cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke caused cancer and a variety of other respiratory ailments.

In the 1980’s some workplaces banned smoking. An intense nationwide education campaign stopped a majority of young people from smoking creating the first generation where nonsmokers were a majority. Cities, towns and states started to ban smoking citing the very real dangers of secondhand smoke. Businesses such as bars, taverns, bingo halls and other gaming facilities were financially pressured by the bans. Some cities and states created exemptions for certain businesses like bars and bingo halls while other states passed across the board bans with no exemptions.

In Springfield Missouri the Sertoma Club, a charitable organization, sought an exemption from the town’s smoking ban for their bingo games. One bingo hall that raised money for charities said the ban has hurt business. Jim Wright, a spokesman for Heart of the Ozarks Sertoma Club, said ÔÇťAnytime we lose costumers it goes right to the bottom line.” The club estimated that the ban has cost the club over $60,000. In Greenville Mississippi smoking bans have decimated bingo halls. By law the bingo halls are required to donate to charities and the smoking ban has caused them to lose a significant amount of business. One bingo hall is fighting back. The Hollywood Palace Bingo hall has filed a lawsuit. They claim that since they are governed by the rules of the Mississippi Gaming Commission they should be exempt from the ban. In Mississippi there is an exemption from the ban for casinos and bars.

There is one sector of the bingo industry that always benefits from smoking bans; the online bingo sector. When the national smoking ban was imposed in the UK bingo halls saw a 60% drop in player numbers while some online bingo sites saw player numbers rise by as much as 80%. Since players are in their own homes they are not subject to any smoking bans no matter how draconian. Bingo hall operators in the UK say they have adjusted to the ban and are now focusing their efforts on attracting the young generation of nonsmokers. So far the strategy seems to have paid off.