Charities can blame the state's new smoking ban all they want for lost gaming revenue. The simple truth is that their losses pale in comparison to citizens' projected savings under the ban.
Tom Barrett, executive director of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, told lawmakers Monday that the charitable gaming industry will lose $100 million annually, thanks to the law that took effect Oct. 1. In the final three months of 2007, receipts dropped 12.8 percent from the same period in 2006. Barrett attributes nearly 8 percent of that to the smoking ban.
Compare that $100 million to tobacco-related health care expenses: The annual cost is $2.6 billion in Minnesota. Yes, billion.
Thankfully, that number is expected to decrease significantly as fewer and fewer people are exposed to secondhand smoke and as more and more smokers give up the habit or cut back due to the ban.
We don't dismiss that the organizations that benefit from charitable gaming --veterans organizations, youth sports, fraternal organizations, outdoor clubs, etc. -- are feeling a double pinch. Gaming revenues ebb and flow with the economy. Now on top of the current economic downturn, these groups have less revenue because smokers are staying home and consequently not buying pull-tabs.
We also acknowledge that the losses are no surprise. These groups predicted the smoking ban would hurt them, which is why they wanted exemptions.
Smoking ban supporters can question the accuracy and specifics of Barrett's report if they want. Personally, we think that's a waste of breath -- just as we think opponents of the ban are blowing smoke if they think the study changes anything.
We reject the notion that the study should prompt the Legislature to reconsider the comprehensive ban. Why should a law that will do so many Minnesotans so much good be changed to a benefit a few?
In other words, our lawmakers did the right thing in putting a statewide public health law above private interests -- however charitable those private interests might be.