Up in smoke: Outcry over New Orleans smoking ban dissipates

After drawing the ire of many Bourbon Street bars and clubs, the grumbling has largely died down in the six months since New Orleans’ controversial smoking ban took hold.

Smokers have apparently accepted the new normal — no citations have been issued so far — while bar owners are still assessing its impact to sales and casino officials are counting their winnings.

For a measure that sought to bring the city in line with the rest of the country, the proposal last year set off a heated debate that its opponents framed as an ongoing struggle to balance New Orleans’ famed tolerance for minor vice against calls for improving safety and a better quality of life for residents.

While many bar owners argued that their profits would suffer, the law’s backers contended that wasn’t likely because New Orleans is in a unique position where patrons can pour their drink into a go-cup and head outside for a quick cigarette.

So far, the city has yet to issue a fine over the law, said Charlotte Parent, director of the Health Department.

Read more of this story at The New Orleans Advocate’s website.

About 33 businesses were reported for violations, and four received a second notice. But subsequent inspections either brought them into compliance or turned up no signs of smoking.

One of the ban’s loudest opponents was Harrah’s Casino New Orleans, which initially joined ranks with French Quarter bars and restaurants in an unsuccessful legal battle to strike down the ban before it was set to take effect. Harrah’s withdrew from the lawsuit.

Since April, Harrah’s casino winnings are down about $11.8 million compared with the same period last year, when the land-based casino won about $165.1 million, state records show.

Harrah’s officials draw more than a casual connection to the smoking ban.

“We expected that, over time, our revenues would decline as experienced in other gaming jurisdictions when a smoking ban has been implemented,” said Dan Real, Southern regional president for Caesars Entertainment and senior vice president and general manager for Harrah’s New Orleans. “This has, in fact, proven to be true and we have seen a revenue decline within the range predicted. By comparison, casinos in neighboring Jefferson Parish and the state of Mississippi have experienced commensurate revenue increases.”

Harrah’s recent revenues were buoyed by a big July, which was up 26 percent. Harrah’s took in almost $36 million in winnings that month, compared with $28.5 million in July 2014.

Otherwise, Harrah’s haul has risen just once since the ban. In September, revenue rose 2 percent, netting the casino $24.5 million, or about $500,000 more than 2014.

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