How Will the Smoking Ban Affect New Orleans Casinos?

The city of New Orleans implemented a full ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, casinos, and other public spaces in April of 2014.

The purpose of the law was to extend existing statewide smoking bans within the city limits. The new law means it is illegal to smoke within five feet of everything from public parks to colleges and even the city’s jails and prisons.

The use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers is also considered smoking. So that’s banned too.

How do the operators of gambling venues in New Orleans feel about it?

They’re upset.

The Louisiana State Police, which oversees gambling in Louisiana, predicted that the state could lose $104 million in tax revenue and fees from the implementation of this ban. That number came from the Gaming Enforcement Commission’s notes on a study done on smoking bans in Atlantic City and Delaware gaming properties.

That study, which you can read as a PDF file here, accurately predicted a 12% decrease in revenue for the state of Delaware after a smoking ban in gambling halls in that state. Another arm of that study predicted a huge decrease of 20% in Atlantic City’s profits across a two-year period after a smoking ban in South Jersey, though that prediction hasn’t been tested yet.

Their argument is simple enough. As the New Orleans advocate puts it, “[Casinos, restaurants, and bars] argue that tourists come to New Orleans because they like to gamble and drink. The city is one of the last to allow smoking in some public places.” To take that away will change people’s attitude about New Orleans.

How many will simply decide not to come back?

What have they done about it?

Opponents of the ban have been active.

First, Harrah’s tried to delay the ban, claiming they needed more time to help their employees and customers adjust to the new rules. New Orleans City Council saw through that smokescreen (pun totally intended), shaming Harrah’s for trying to amend city law to benefit their own interests. For their part, Harrah’s is currently involving New Orleans in a difficult and costly lease renegotiation which has to be seen as an attempt at revenge on the part of the casino.

What Harrah’s did next was brilliant. Before the ban went into effect, the property made a huge show of becoming “the first smoke-free casino in Louisiana.” At midnight two days before the ban went into effect, they ceremonially removed ashtrays, handed out lollipops for frustrated smokers, and made a big to-do of their early adoption.

It was a brilliant move because they were planning a counter-attack the entire time.

Next, Harrah’s joined forces with many other local businesses affected by the ban and filed a lawsuit in civil court to strike it down. This action was more effective. It included several large local businesses (including Pat O Brien’s, Broussard’s, and several other New Orleans landmarks) and focused on the potential loss of revenue facing the city.

The hearing was scheduled for May 21. That lease negotiation Harrah’s is forcing on the city? It could cost New Orleans anywhere from $4 – $30 million dollars, which Harrah’s says is the cost of forcing the smoking ban on their successful gaming enterprise.

Who benefits from the New Orleans smoking ban?

I’m cynical, but not too cynical. This might smarmy, too.

I’m okay with that.

Here’s who benefits from the New Orleans smoking ban:

The people who visit bars, hotels, restaurants, casinos, and other public spaces all benefit.

We know secondhand smoke is dangerous. The American Cancer Society says secondhand smoke kills 42,000 people a year. It’s bad and you probably agree that it should be banned, unless you’re a libertarian or anarchist or something.

But beyond that – people these days don’t like to go places where smoking takes place. Times have changed – gone are the days when going home from your waitressing job smelling like a cigarette was no big deal because everybody smoked. These days, fewer people smoke, and the ones who don’t simply don’t want to be around it.

City Council Member Latoya Cantrell, who sponsored the law and has been vocal about her support for it, points out that secondhand smoke exposure costs the state millions of dollars a year in healthcare costs. That’s another angle to consider. It might be fiscally irresponsible to continue to allow smoking in public, at least according to the ban’s proponents.

So what’s going to happen?

Harrah’s is trying to put its money where its mouth is, threatening to shrink its state-mandated work force from 2,400 to 1,500. They’ve got legislation under consideration which would allow them to do just that.

With pressure on the city council from judges more than ready to rule in favor of existing liberties, it’s not totally clear that the city will be able to maintain the ban as it exists now.

Bartenders and business owners continue to make the same point – you’ll read it in this article from VICE and in this from the Guardian. What is going to happen when neighboring businesses get sick of the smokers pouring out of bars, casinos, and restaurants every few minutes? That seems to be the real threat to shop owners concerned about their customers getting up and leaving to satisfy their nicotine habit.

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that the ban is here to stay. I can’t find a single example of a city getting rid of a smoking ban once it’s been put in place. It just doesn’t happen. As for how the city will be affected, I’d predict that Harrah’s is going to continue making a stink until they earn an exemption from the New Orleans City Council.

That means the city will rule in favor of the civil rights of customers at a single business. That will be a weird day, indeed.

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How to Make a Million Dollars Playing Video Poker

I’ll level with you – if I knew some secret method for making a million dollars on video poker, I wouldn’t be blogging right now. I’d be in the Alaskan wilderness catching salmon or just sitting on my back porch cracking open a beer.

So how can you become a video poker millionaire? The truth is, there is no one secret method that will turn you into a video poker millionaire. I’m suspicious of “get-rich quick” ideas of any variety. As a general rule, the less work something requires, the less effective it is.

I can think of a few outside-the-box ways to put two commas in your bank account playing video poker:

You could win a million dollars playing progressive video poker. Of course, you’d have to win an unlikely number of progressive jackpots to total $1,000,000 – video poker progressive jackpots are considerably smaller than slot machines, resetting to between $500 and $1,500, and rarely paying off more than two or three times the reset amount. Don’t forget how rare progressive video poker games are – you won’t find a single progressive video poker game on the Vegas Strip or anywhere in Atlantic City.
You could sit around putting money in the machine until you hit an uncanny streak of luck. Let’s say you’re betting max, $5 per credit and $25 credits per hand. If you could string together enough $30 payouts in a row, you’d eventually win a million bucks. It would take 200,000 straight 6-credit wins (to offset the coast of each round’s maximum bet), and would certainly raise some eyebrows at the IRS, but I suppose it’s technically (given enough decimal places) “possible.”
You could have a really gnarly slip-and-fall accident while playing a video poker machine. If it’s found that the casino was negligent in inspecting and maintaining their property, you’ll be entitled to compensation, damages, and (in rare cases) a punitive award designed to teach the casino a lesson they won’t easily forget. It’s within the realm of possibility that you could win a million-dollar settlement. Of course, this is abuse of the system, and it would make you a horrible human being. It may backfire too – the court may throw the case out, especially if there is no evidence of negligence.
Those three ideas are pretty far outside the realm of possibility. Instead of slipping in a spilled drink, waiting for a mathematical miracle, or losing your shirt chasing progressives, I suggest a more level-headed approach.

The Three Basic Tenets of the Video Poker Millionaire
The three tenets listed below aren’t exactly secret. They’re freely-available all over the Internet. I can vouch for this fact, as I’ve written dozens of blog posts on these topics over the years.

Once you’ve learned how to play video poker, all you need to do to (one day) make a million bucks playing the game is follow these three simple rules:

Learn Basic Strategy
If you want to have fun in Vegas and don’t mind eventually giving your entire $100 bankroll to the casino, you don’t need to worry about strategy.

If your plan is to earn a million dollars from video poker, you have to become a graduate student of gambling. It helps if you have a good library near your home, since some of the books you’ll want to read aren’t all that available online. In fact, if you live near a state university with a decent research library, you’re a step ahead.

While you’re at it, subscribe to some gaming magazines. If you’re mostly going to gamble in Vegas, subscribe to some Vegas content, too. Join a couple of forums. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find seminars in your area teaching legitimate video poker and other game strategies. By the way, this isn’t something you can do once or twice a year for a couple of years and be done with it. With new games come new strategies, and with new casinos come new opportunities for advantage gambling. You’ll really need to become a lifelong student of gambling and game strategy.

Choose Player-Friendly Games
Unfortunately, the heyday of +EV video poker is long gone. You can still find a few high-paying titles that make a special trip to a specific casino or website worth your time. Specifically, there’s enough 10/7 Double Bonus and full-pay Deuces Wild on casino floors in the gambling Meccas of America to keep things interesting. If you are absolutely determined to earn a million bucks from video poker, you should probably stick to these titles only, since any other titles are going to retain too much of your money over time.

If you don’t mind gambling a little (or waiting a few extra years to earn your million), you can play some of the 99%+ titles that casinos still host. These are generally available whether you’re online, in Vegas, in Atlantic City, or elsewhere in the USA. The so-called Not So Ugly Deuces games (which we call 25/16/10) is popular and gives the casino a less than a quarter-percent edge, as do most casino’s versions 9/6 Jacks or Better, and the venerable 8/5 Bonus Poker with a return of around 99.1%.

Casinos love to put sub-99% video poker games immediately next to identical games set high. This is especially true in the few casinos where you still find full-pay titles. This means you absolutely have to inspect every pay table before you play.

Manage Your Money (and Earn Comps)
The kind of dedication it takes to become a gambling millionaire means that it shouldn’t be hard for you to rigorously control how much you spend on video poker. But since you should always bet maximum, your wager size and scope are pretty limited. Instead of worrying about bet sizing, focus on earning those crucial additional benefits casinos give their loyal customers. That means joining the players club, exchanging club points for cash, scoring multiple-points promos, entering raffles and drawings, playing in video poker tournaments, remembering to mail in those bounce-back rewards clipping coupons, and doing all those annoying things that tend to make a casino trip less fun.

In exchange for a little bit of what always feels like wasted time, you’re putting a big dent in the casino’s edge. If you’re already playing +EV games, using comps basically extends your tiny edge. Not a statistically-significant amount at first, but over time, it makes a big difference.

Conclusion
I’m at the end of the post, and I have this nagging question at the back of my mind. Is this even possible?

I did some math – always a dangerous proposition – and came up with some interesting figures about this hands-off method of becoming a millionaire on Jacks or Better. To earn $1,000,000 playing 10/7 Double Bonus (which gives you about a 0.17% return per hour, when playing with perfect strategy), you’d have to play for 294,117 hours. That’s assuming you can play 80 hands an hour perfectly, making no strategic mistakes at all. That works out to about 100 years of playing the same game for eight hours a day.

Having said that, you could always form a partnership with other players working towards a common goal – but then, you’re not really a millionaire, are you?

All told, I think it’s an interesting question to answer and a good teachable moment. I am sure that someone out there has earned a million bucks (or even more) playing video poker, but they’re probably some sort of outlier, with an uncanny ability to play long-term and the best-odds games making very few mistakes. It’s also possible that a person would earn a million bucks worth of comps given enough time and enough loyalty at the right casino.