While the struggle over control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives got all the attention last Tuesday, voters in several states weighed in on issues that have an impact on the meetings and convention industry.
Anti-smoking campaigns in Nevada, Ohio, and Arizona made headway in the elections. In Nevada, voters approved a modified smoking ban that makes exceptions for gaming areas of casinos as well as stand-alone bars. Smoking will now be banned in all restaurants, as well as bars and taverns that serve food. Whether the ban will extend to hotel and motel rooms is unclear and may be subject to post-election legal review.
In Ohio, voters had two anti-smoking questions on the ballot, passing Issue 5, which bans smoking in all indoor places except for tobacco shops, designated hotel rooms, and designated areas in nursing homes. Voters rejected a less restrictive smoking ban that would have allowed smoking in bars and restaurants.
Arizona voters also chose between two smoking ban issues and passed the more restrictive measure, which bans smoking in enclosed public places, including restaurants and bars. It does allow for exceptions for some hotel and motel rooms.
Casino projects were on the ballot in Rhode Island and Louisiana, with voters in the former rejecting a project that could have competed with Foxwoods and Mohegan in neighboring Connecticut. Rhode Island voters voted down a ballot measure that would have allowed Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., along with the Narragansett Tribe, to build a resort casino in West Warwick, R.I., just outside of Providence.
The proposed $1 billion project would have included a 500-room hotel with casino space for 3,500 slot machines and 150 game tables. Groups lobbying for approval of the casino—such as Rhode Islanders for Jobs and Tax Relief—argued that it would have provided close to 4,000 jobs and generated over $100 million in tax revenue for the state by its third year of operation. Proponents also said the proposed casino would have lured potential patrons from Rhode Island and Massachusetts away from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, both about an hour away in Connecticut.
Opponents of the measure maintained that a new casino would have drawn business away from Rhode Island's two large gaming operations, Lincoln Park and Newport Grand, and would have cost the state a substantial amount in lost tax revenues.
In a release issued following the measure’s defeat, Harrah’s, addressing the Narragansett Tribe, said, “We share your disappointment at being denied the right to a casino on your sovereign land, a right that every other federally recognized tribe in the United States enjoys. We hope that some day Congress corrects this injustice.”
Meanwhile, Pinnacle Entertainment won passage of a ballot measure in Louisiana that allows it to build a new $350 million casino hotel next to its L’Auberge du Lac facility in Lake Charles. The new resort, Sugarcane Bay, is scheduled to open in 2009.
In passing the ballot measure, voters in Calcasieu Parish will allow Pinnacle to build the casino by using a casino license it bought from Harrah’s after Harrah’s decided not to rebuild its riverboat gambling complex in Lake Charles after it was severely damaged during Hurricane Rita.