Detroit News Strikes Again
Well they are trying again. Here is an interesting story they published that should scare off visitors from Detroit.
I was looking to see what our Mayor had to say but I did not see his name mentioned. I wonder if the reporter called him and if he did, did the Mayor return the phone call. [I guess Eddie does not like the News. They reported on the Conyers Tunnel proposal that "Calls to Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis were not returned Wednesday." Not such a smart idea to make enemies of the press on the other side of the river is it?]
And by the way, news travels quickly. On WWJ Detroit today, I heard that 2 out of the 3 roof patios were turned down in Windsor as well for zoning reasons. That was part of the story on "no smoking" on this side of the river.
Windsor to smokers: Butt out
Businesses fear customers will disappear
Joel J. Smith / The Detroit News
David Coates / The Detroit News
WINDSOR -- Walk into the Paradise Bingo hall and the odor of cigarette smoke is overwhelming.
The air should smell sweeter at the end of the month when an Ontario-wide smoking ban takes effect in all public facilities, including bingo halls, bars, restaurants, sporting venues, stores, office buildings and Casino Windsor.
But many Windsor business owners fear revenues will disappear with the smoke as tobacco-craving customers, many from Michigan, take their business elsewhere. Some owners say it could cost them millions of dollars or force them to close their doors.
"We expect to be devastated by this smoking ban," said Mike Duval, who opened Paradise Bingo 21 years ago in a former bowling alley. "At least 70 to 80 percent of our customers are smokers. If the players can't have a cigarette while they play, they just won't come anymore."
The smoking ban, which takes effect next Wednesday, adds to the challenges facing Windsor businesses.
A stronger Canadian dollar, fueled by the country's robust economy, means Americans don't get as much for their money in Canada, which has always been part of Windsor's appeal for Metro Detroiters. A few years ago, $1 could be converted into $1.50 or more in Canadian currency; on Tuesday, the Canadian exchange rate was $1.11.
Also threatening to keep Americans at home is the prospect of tighter border controls, including requiring a passport for travel to Canada, amid growing concerns about illegal immigration and terrorism.
But the biggest and most immediate challenge for Windsor businesses is the smoking ban.
Half of patrons cross border
Duval estimates that 50 percent of his customers cross the border from Metro Detroit. Some visit two, three or more times a week and many have told him they won't come if they can't light up.
Betty Brown of Detroit is among them.
"You can't sit and play bingo for four hours and not smoke," Brown said. "You'd have a nervous breakdown. You're not going to be able to smoke anymore; the exchange rate is so low there is no advantage for an American, and now they are talking about everyone needing a passport. I'm just not coming here anymore."
Windsor's loss may be Detroit's gain. The city's three casinos -- the MGM Grand Detroit, Greektown Casino and MotorCity Casino -- expect to benefit from the Ontario smoking ban.
About 80 percent of Casino Windsor customers come from the United States, many from Metro Detroit. They drive right past the Detroit gaming houses -- where smoking is allowed -- on the way to Canada.
"We do anticipate a positive effect on our business," said Roger Martin, who represents Greektown Casino. "Like always, we welcome all guests to our casino."
Bingo hall builds patios
In a bid to keep his customers who smoke, Duval is building two outside smoking patios at Paradise Bingo and will offer free wireless Personal Bingo Verifiers that pick up the numbers and mark players' bingo cards. The devices, which weigh 2 or 3 pounds, can be carried outside to the smoking patios. Still, Duval has reason to fret that few bingo players will want to be inconvenienced.
Karen Quatrain, 44, lives in Lincoln Park and works on her feet all day at a Farmer Jack supermarket. She plays bingo twice a week and has no intention of walking outside to smoke.
"I'm sure I won't be coming back when they ban smoking," she said. "Smoking goes with bingo."
Casino Windsor also is building two outside patio areas for smokers that will include chairs, tables, umbrellas and, during cold weather, heat.
The casino is owned by the Ontario government, which imposed the smoking ban as protection against health problems created by cigarette smoke. Government officials believe the ban could cut $1.7 billion in annual health care costs in Ontario attributed to tobacco-related diseases.
"We fully expect in the short run there will be an impact in our revenues," said Teresa Roncon, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., the government agency that owns Casino Windsor. "We just can't speculate on the impact."
In addition to building the smoking patios, the casino is undergoing $400 million in renovations that include a new 400-room hotel tower, a 5,000-seat entertainment auditorium and restaurants.
The casino has been pushing money and car giveaway promotions since the beginning of the year to show patrons there are advantages to coming to the casino even if they can't smoke.
"Absolutely, it's being done because of the smoking ban," said Holly Ward, a spokeswoman for the casino. "It's been on our radar for quite some time. We are concerned about losing customers."
Casino Windsor will lose Calandra Anderson, 35, of Detroit, a Ford Motor Co. supervisor who visits four or five times a week. She'll start going to the Detroit casinos.
"I'm not coming anymore," she said. "This is my form of entertainment and relaxation. Smoking is part of it."
Jim Bentimiglia, 53, of Clinton Township, who drives a semi-truck, said he likes Casino Windsor and will try to tough out the smoking ban.
"I hope the casino can survive," he said. Beyond Paradise Bingo and Casino Windsor, some bars also are constructing outside patio areas for smokers. While not a perfect solution, bar owners hope it will be enough to keep the smoking crowd coming. But the new law prohibits putting a roof over the patio, which could pose a problem during bad weather.
Windsor restaurants are expected to feel the least impact from the smoking ban. Smoking sections have been shrinking for years, partly because most people can go for an hour or two without a cigarette.
Paradise Bingo has a plan if its revenues nosedive -- layoffs for 25 of its 65 workers, a step the bingo hall hopes won't be necessary, said co-owner Karen Duval.
She said Paradise Bingo and other businesses won't be the only losers if Metro Detroiters stay away from Windsor. In Ontario, all bingo games must be sponsored by charities. After the winnings are paid out, the proceeds are split between the charity, which gets 60 percent, and the bingo hall, which gets 40 percent. Last year, Windsor's seven bingo halls raised $17 million for 650 charities, including $3 million from Paradise Bingo.