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Smoking ban costs Moody County bars

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 4th, 2011

Fat Boys assistant manager Sherill Broekhuizen has a cigarette outside the bar. Brockhuizen feels the smoking ban is unfair, both as a smoker and employee of the business. Enterprise photo by Ryan Woodard

The extended smoking ban that went into effect last November is hurting the bottom line of Moody County bars.

Video lottery sales have taken the biggest hit, and some bar owners think smoking gamblers are taking their business to the one establishment in the area where they can smoke while playing video lottery – Royal River Casino.

State voters approved Referred Law 12 on the Nov. 2, 2010 ballot; the measure banned smoking in bars, Deadwood casinos and video lottery establishments.

Royal River Casino, which is owned by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, is not required to follow the new law.

“Generally speaking, the casino is a tribal-owned business subject to federal and tribal laws but not state laws and regulations,” said Moody County State’s Attorney William Ellingson.

Ralph Hansen, owner of the Bar X Bar in Flandreau, said his business has lost liquor and beer sales since the ban went into effect. But his biggest loss has been in video lottery play.

Hansen said before the ban, he had a steady stream of customers come in and play video lottery during the day.

“They were in and out you know, and there was just about always somebody on the machines,” he said. “(There’s) just about nobody on ‘em anymore.”

Hansen doesn’t necessarily think the video lottery players are quitting altogether.

“Just about all of them that played in here smoked - and a considerable amount,” he said. “Now they go out to (Royal River Casino) and the casino doesn’t have to abide by this non-smoking rule, which I think is wrong but that’s the way it is.”

Hansen said he isn’t completely opposed to the new law. He said it’s been good for the health of his wife and daughter who work in the bar.

“I would be glad that it passed if the casino had to abide by the same rule. Because then the people wouldn’t have any place to go to smoke,” he said.

Employees at Fat Boys, which is directly across from Bar X Bar, have also noticed a distinct drop in business.

“The ones that would come in and play the lottery for hours on end - they’re only coming in putting twenty bucks in and they’re walking out the door,” said assistant manager Sherill Broekhuizen. “I know that the lottery machines are not getting played nearly as much as they were. That, I would say, is down by over 60 percent.”

Broekhuizen thinks some customers are going elsewhere.

“I think they’re staying home or going out to the casino,” she said.

“A lot of them are going out to the casino now because you can smoke and gamble out there, and drink.”

Tim Schipper, director of marketing at Royal River Casino, declined to say whether the casino had seen a boon in business since the statewide ban was enacted.

“It sure hasn’t hurt us any,” he said.

Bruce Thorsen, owner of BJ’s Fine Foods & Spirits in Flandreau, said he has taken a big hit in video lottery.

He said South Dakota will struggle to replace its video lottery revenue.

“Everybody knew it was going to hurt lottery but we did it anyway,” he said. “People are going to say six months from now, ‘What are we going to do’ and I say, ‘Why did we lose it in the first place?’”

Thorsen said his video lottery business has been cut by about half.

Meanwhile, other bars in the county have seen dips in business as well.

Greg Van Meveren took over the city-owned bar in Colman last Jan. 16. Now called Greg’s Place, the bar’s on-sale beer sales took a hit after the ban took effect, as did video lottery.

But Van Meveren said that while the beer sales came back somewhat, the video lottery has not. He estimated that it’s down “5 to 8 percent.”

He has adjusted to the ban by building a shelter in back with a heating device.

“My regulars have responded pretty well,” he said. “They appreciate that something was done and that at least they’re out of the wind.”

Van Meveren is not of the opinion that his video lottery regulars are going elsewhere. He said they have “lightened up on their play instead of relocating their play.”

Egan Bar owner Dennis Erickson said his business hasn’t been affected too much, although the transition hasn’t been easy.

“All my employees smoke, all my help smoke, 80 percent of my customers smoke, I have pool teams come in all the time and about 60 percent of them smoke,” he explained. “So it’s a pain. I thought the simple solution would be for the state to let the owner decide whether they want smoking or non-smoking. I’m not too happy with it.”

Hansen, who has owned and operated the Bar X in Flandreau for 38 years, thinks the smoking ban could eventually doom his business.

“As far as the long range, I don’t see where it’s going to be a profitable situation anymore,” Hansen said.

The smoking ban will likely have a similar effect across the state, according to Hansen.

“The business had been going downhill but when this smoking ban took effect it dropped drastically,” he said. “It’s too early to really put an exact figure on how much it dropped but I will tell you one thing, there will be some bars in the state that will close because of this.”

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