Batavia Downs adds 2nd smoking room despite state's anti-tobacco campaign... | Cigarettes Blog

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Batavia Downs adds 2nd smoking room despite state's anti-tobacco campaign...

One branch of New York state government is continuing its war on smoking this year while two other state-sanctioned entities have recently provided smokers with a gambling haven, complete with free, self-serve beverages.
The apparent hypocrisy has left anti-smoking advocates dumbfounded.
“I’m somewhat surprised and really alarmed. To have any part of our government involved in expanding smoking areas is mind-blowing,” said Michael Seilback, vice president for public policy and communications for the American Lung Association in New York.
In the current New York fiscal year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo budgeted for the state to spend $41 million to continue an anti-smoking campaign.
Meanwhile, Batavia Downs Casino in Genesee County recently spent $100,000 to provide smokers with a larger, nicer room in which to puff and gamble at the same time.
Batavia Downs is owned by Western Region Off-Track Betting, a public benefit corporation. The casino’s 640 video gaming machines — including a total of 121 in two county-approved smoking rooms — are operated by the New York State Lottery.
Michael Kane, president and chief operating officer of Western OTB, said expanding one of the smoking rooms was simply a business decision that makes dollars and sense.
“You try to cater to your clientele,” Kane said. “As a former smoker I agree that it’s best if smoking is eradicated. The fact is, a lot of people still enjoy it.”
And those people who smoke and also like slot machines push the button faster on the gaming devices than non-smokers.
“Machines in the smoking rooms average 2½ to 3 times the play,” Kane said. “There’s no question the demand is there.
“We want to give people an option instead of going to Native American casinos where there are non-smoking areas but it’s the same air.”
The dollars and cents part of the equation is significant. Batavia Downs hauls in money for the state and the 15 counties within Western OTB’s region, plus the cities of Rochester and Buffalo. Over the past 10 months, net revenues from gaming machines has averaged $3.35 million per month. From that $1.37 million went into the state education fund.
The more times a button is pushed on lottery gaming machines, the more money the state makes.“They’re trying to make people as comfortable as possible because they don’t want a smoker to go into nicotine withdrawal and then leave,” said Nelson Acquilano, executive director of the Counsel on Alcoholism and Addiciton of the Finger Lakes.
“The rule of thumb for any casino: keep them playing as long as possible,” Acquilano said. “The more they play, the more they lose. Anything combining smoking and gambling, from a public health perspective, is absurd.”
Anti-smoking advocates say providing a haven for smoking gamblers means it will be even more difficult for those people to kick the habit, should they choose to try.
“People who tend to have a compulsion are the least likely to quit,” said Patrick Reynolds, founder of The Foundation For A Smokefree America. “People who gamble have failed repeatedly at quitting smoking.
“In reality, the state is actually enabling them to continue to smoke, which will, in the long run, cost the state more money in health care costs.”
Officials for the New York State Lottery say Batavia Downs’ management is solely responsible for the smoking rooms. Lottery spokesperson Christy Calicchia, director of communications for the agency, declined to comment on the matter and referred all questions to Western OTB.
Of nine “racinos” in New York, only Batavia Downs has indoor smoking facilities. In 2003, the state banned smoking in the workplace, but the Clean Indoor Air Act gives each county health department the right to grant exceptions to the rule. Where there is no full-service health department, such as Ontario County, the state Health Department would make the decision.
Batavia Downs has received two of the 14 variances approved by the Genesee County Health Department. State law says a business must present a “compelling” need for a smoking area, such as an inability to survive without it.
“Our local board of health, for whatever reason, decided to allow waivers,” said David Whitcraft, acting Genesee County health director. “We’re a small county and people who own businesses do have a voice in government.”
Finger Lakes Casino & Racetrack is in Farmington, Ontario County. While its gaming floor has nearly twice as many video slot machines as Batavia, approaching 1,200, there is no indoor smoking area.“The way the law is written, I don’t qualify in any way, shape or form,” said Chris Riegle, president and general manager of Finger Lakes Casino, referring to the requirement to demonstrate a compelling need.
There is no casino in Rochester, and Monroe County authorities won’t issue any waivers. Authorities say no one has been able to prove a real “need” for smoking.
In Genesee County, each waiver lasts two years, and then must be renewed. The Stumblin Inn in Elba, Rose Garden Bowl in Bergen and the Elk’s Club in Batavia are among 12 other businesses that have been granted a waiver.
At each business, the smoking area must be fully enclosed, and the pressure gradient must ensure smoke is filtered out through the exhaust system and will not flow out of the room when a door is opened.
Genesee County does benefit from the existence of the the OTB-owned casino and race track; the live harness racing season runs from late July into early December.
Genesee County received approximately $100,000 from OTB in 2011 from a surcharge on wagers as well as net revenue from operations.
The county also received $120,000 from the state from video slot proceeds to help pay for costs associated with “the incidental effects of gambling,” said county manager Jay Gsell.
Batavia Downs has had a county-approved smoking room since 2002. Today there are two rooms, the original space near the escalators at the main entrance with 61 gaming machines, and the new room at the rear of the gaming floor with 60 machines, Kane said.
Patrons on the non-smoking gaming floor are offered free coffee and soda from servers. To ensure no employee is required to enter the smoking rooms against their will, the new area has coffee and soda available inside.

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