Golden Gaming’s Sartini lights up on tavern smoking issue

My recent column on the proposed changes to the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006 to accommodate tavern owners continues to generate heat as well as smoke.

Due to the importance of smoking gambling customers to the bottom lines of saloons and casinos alike, as I see it, Nevada continues to marginalize smoking as an enormous public health hazard. Instead of joining the rest of the nation as it focuses on the multibillion-dollar costs of smoking, not surprisingly business owners say smoking bans are bad for business. And the tobacco lobby reminds anyone within earshot that smokers have rights, too.

Golden Gaming CEO Blake Sartini has been in Las Vegas all his life and has been in the casino and tavern business for decades. Here’s the letter he wrote in response to my column. He writes:

“I read with interest your article in this morning’s Review Journal titled “ Smoking law shows how Nevada rules are made to be broken”.

“I have been following your column/commentary in the Review Journal for years, and particularly enjoy the unique perspectives you bring to each story. In most cases, I have viewed your perspective insightful and accurate, but not this morning. Although you pointed out the injustice of the unlevel playing field the Nevada Tavern Owners must endure, as the SMOKING LAW does not apply to unrestricted gaming locations, including large casinos, your approach to the fact that the tavern business was substantially negatively impacted as a result of the SMOKING LAW, seemed cynical and dismissive.

“Before I try and clarify my, and other Nevada Tavern Operators position regarding our support for ASSEMBLY BILL #571, I want to begin by stating the foundation for our position is simply that the SMOKING LAW itself is broken. When over 300,000 Nevadan’s voted for the NEVADA CLEAN INDOOR ACT in 2006, those more than 300,000 Nevadan’s voted to make SMOKING IN NEVADA TAVERNS LEGAL. THAT IS RIGHT. IT IS LEGAL UNDER THE NCIAA TO SMOKE IN NEVADA TAVERNS. What is against the law, is to serve prepared food to smoking patrons. By the way, conforming smoking taverns can indeed serve food to a smoking patron – by delivery or third party. In other words, a tavern owner can order a Domino’s pizza and have it delivered through the front door of the tavern and place it in front of the smoking guest to eat, right there at the bar. The tavern owner, however, cannot prepare the same pizza in the his/her own kitchen and bring it to the smoking customer at the same bar. John, does this make any sense to you?? The point here is in fact the NCIAA DID NOT ELIMINATE SMOKING IN NEVADA TAVERNS – THE NCIAA IN FACT ELIMINATED FOOD IN SMOKING ESTABLISHMENTS. THE LAW DID NOT ELIMINATE SECOND HAND SMOKE – IT ELIMINATED CHICKEN FINGERS.

“This bill DOES NOT EXPAND ON THE BUSINESSES OR PLACES IN WHICH SMOKING CAN TAKE PLACE CURRENTLY. AS A RESULT NOT ONE MORE NEVADAN WILL BE EXPOSED TO SECOND HAND SMOKE. ADDITIONALLY – THIS BILL WILL STRENGTHEN AND CLARIFY NEVADAN’S INTENT WITH THE NCIAA OF “PROTECTING NEVADA’S CHILDREN FROM THE DANGERS OF SECOND HAND SMOKE”. It will do this by defining “ Age Restricted Bars and Taverns” ( 21 and older ), where taverns are already LEGALLY SMOKING, and allowing these taverns to serve cheeseburgers and chicken fingers. Again, this bill is consistent with the stated purpose of the NCIAA of “protecting Nevada’s Children from second hand smoke” by not allowing minors into these age restricted establishments.

“You made the insinuation that this bill, if passed, would let the “tavern owners off the hook”. Off of what “ hook”? You also make the accusation that Nevadans “thought they were banning smoking by voting for the smoking ban. If that is the case you, and the Nevadan’s that voted for the NCIAA , didn’t understand the law you thought you voted for. The NCIAA IN FACT DID NOT BAN SMOKING IN TAVERNS. There is no “ HOOK” to get off.

“Some of these “little people”, hard working people that you have been a significant advocate for, have in fact lost their jobs as a direct result of the banning of chicken fingers in smoking establishments. Our analysis as presented to the Assembly Ways and Means committee, shows that hundreds of hard working individuals have been put out of work as a result of this confusing law. Tavern owners were forced to decide between allowing smoking in their establishments, and closing down their kitchens, or keeping their kitchens open and eliminating smoking customers. An overwhelming number chose to cater to their smoking customers and close their kitchens. That is a fact that you nor others can dispute. To support our claim that our businesses were dramatically affected by the SMOKING BAN, we presented indisputable data that suggested a 17% decline in our revenues as a direct result of the passage of the NCIAA.

“You and others have tried to blur the lines as to whether our downturn as outlined in 2006 -2007 timeframe was in fact due to the macro environment and the Great Recession. It was not. Most recently an online daily newsletter “ The Adams Daily Report” yesterday wrote about South Dakota, and just released data that attributes a 17% decline in gaming revenues directly to a new statewide smoking law. Additionally, recently the state of Montana attributed a 15 – 20 percent drop in the statewide gaming revenue to a new statewide indoor smoking ban which recently went into effect. These are facts, and smoking customers when lost from tavern and gaming operations cause significant losses in revenue, and as a result cause jobs to be lost. And not just here in Nevada…

“Nevada Taverns are truly a unique business model. They exist primarily here in Nevada, and are unique because they offer the option of video gaming, as well as food and beverage within the establishment. In these unique establishments, smoking customers can make up a significant portion of the revenues generated . in Nevada, recent studies have shown that as many as 23% of the Nevada population are smokers. That is more than 1 in 5 people. In addition to the clarifying and strengthening of the law by ASSEMBLY BILL #571, Nevada Tavern Owners believe that adult Nevadan’s should be provided a choice as to whether to patronize an “age restricted smoking bar or tavern”, and the Tavern Owners themselves believe they should be provided the choice of whether or not to cater to smoking customers.

“John, I believe the Nevada Tavern Owners and yourself are in fact on the same page here. WHY? Because I believe that this assembly bill is not only consistent with the current law’s stated goal of protecting Nevada’s Children from the dangers of second hand smoke – it strengthens and clarifies the law for all parties involved.”