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Smoking bans don't crimp bingo, study finds

Smoking bans that have popped up around Kentucky haven't put a dent in bingo's bottom line, a new study shows.

“We found there's really no link between smoke-free laws and bingo revenues, one way or the other,” co-author Ellen Hahn said Monday. She is director of the University of Kentucky's Tobacco Policy Research Program.

Bingo has been a major fund-raiser for a number of groups, including public-school sports and band booster clubs in Lexington.

The study comes as the Urban County Council prepares to consider tweaking the city's 2003 indoor smoking ban. Among the proposed changes to be introduced at a council work session Tuesday is language that would clear the air in bingo parlors.

The parlors were to have been included in the original ban, but the courts ruled that booster clubs are private organizations that are exempt from the ordinance. The proposed changes, to be introduced by Councilman David Stevens, would redefine private organizations.

Hahn and co-author Mark Pyles from the College of Charleston looked at quarterly revenue from the 13 counties that have at least one smoking ban (Lexington was included, even though bingo parlors were smoky through most of the study period).

They compared the counties with smoking bans to counties with no smoking bans. They also looked at revenues in the 13 counties before and after smoking bans took effect.

In the latter category, there was a slight variation in the numbers. Gross receipts, for example, were somewhat higher before the bans, but net receipts were somewhat higher afterward.

Hahn stressed that none of the differences was statistically significant.

And the researchers didn't rely on raw numbers alone. They also used what Pyles called “relatively complex” methods to take into account factors such as unemployment rates, the population of the county, and seasonal differences.

The finding matches a similar study in Massachusetts.

Hahn was asked about a widely circulated New York Times article that said bingo revenues had fallen by 13 percent in Minnesota after a 2007 smoking ban. She pointed out that that article cited raw numbers and looked at change over only two quarters.

The real bottom line, Hahn said, is that the study, along with a July study that said the air in bingo parlors is unsafe to breathe, make a strong argument for the council to ban bingo smoking.

“It would be a win-win to include bingo parlors because people who work there to raise money, as well as those who go there to play, would be protected,” she said.