By CAIN BURDEAU
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana regulators say $104 million in revenues and state fees might be lost over two years from Harrah's casino, a horse racing track and video-poker halls if New Orleans enacts a widespread ban on smoking.
After the New Year, the City Council will debate a proposed ban on smoking in public places. Among those most affected would be the city's gambling houses, which include a Harrah's casino outside the French Quarter, a horse racing track and many video poker halls.
The lost revenue estimates were presented Thursday by the Louisiana State Police, the agency that oversees gambling in Louisiana.
The proposed ban has divided opinions in this city famous for its tolerance and lax vice laws.
Jeff Traylor, the audit director for the state police's Gaming Enforcement Division, said the Louisiana estimates were based on a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study of the effects of smoking bans in Delaware and Atlantic City, New Jersey. According to Traylor, PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated a decrease of 12 percent in revenues in Delaware for the first year after a smoking ban and a 20 percent decrease in profits in Atlantic City over a two-year period.
Drawing from those calculations, Traylor said revenues in New Orleans from gambling could be expected to decline by $86.4 million and fees paid by gambling establishments to the state could drop by $17.4 million over a two-year period following a ban.
The proposed ban is pitting owners of nightlife establishments against employees such as musicians who say they want to work in smoke-free places. Several prominent New Orleans musicians have spoken in favor of smoke-free.
Opponents include many of the city's famous bars and nightlife venues. They argue that tourists come to New Orleans because they like to gamble and drink. The city is one of the last to not forbid smoking in public places. Louisiana passed a ban on smoking in restaurants in 2007, but it is still allowed in bars and casinos.
The Louisiana Gaming Control Board asked the state police to do the revenue projections. The board's chairman, Ronnie Jones, said it was important for the City Council to consider the potential effects of a ban.
"I just don't want the City Council to take action without their knowing some of the unintended consequences," Jones said at Thursday's meeting in Baton Rouge.
LaToya Cantrell, the City Council member who proposed the smoking ban, has said such bans help business more than hurt it. Her spokesman, David Winkler-Schmit, said Cantrell "is extremely mindful of utilizing evidence-based, peer- reviewed economic data to see what the actual impact will be on the city in terms of revenue, tourists visits, conventions and other categories."
Winkler-Schmit also said the main point of a smoking ban would be to protect employees and customers from exposure to secondhand smoke.
"This exposure not only severely affects their health but also drives up city and state medical costs, something state police report did not take into consideration," he said.