South Florida’s year-round pleasant weather gives racetrack casino operators a chance for a novel work-around: They can provide smokers a place to gamble by creating an open-air structure.
The latest and largest iteration of smoker-friendly slots emerged Saturday, when Calder Casino celebrated the opening of the Backyard Casino, a 3,000-square-foot area with about 75 games connected to the south side of the Miami Gardens property’s slot floor.
Let’s catch up for a second. Slot facilities at South Florida horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons are subject to the Florida Clean Indoor Air act, which is a good thing for most people. Unfortunately, many slot patrons fit a certain profile, one that lumps smoking, drinking and gambling into one activity.
The Native American casinos, on sovereign land, are not subject to non-smoking regulations, which South Florida racetrack casino operators point out as yet another advantage the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and two sister properties in Broward County also have. The Miccosukee Hotel & Resort in west Miami-Dade also allows smoking, but banned it in the poker room a few years ago, at the request of players. (In fairness, all Indian casinos have expanded their non-smoking areas in recent years.)
To fortify the notion that casinos prefer to be smoker-friendly, one only need to look back at Atlantic City a few years ago. When smoking was banned, business dropped 15 percent. Casino operators quickly pled for the state to make them exempt from clean-air laws, and life was good again for those who prefer to puff and play.
The Isle Casino and Racing in Pompano Beach was the first to create a covered patio for slots, in 2010. (Think such an idea would work in, say, Iowa, in December?) Most other local casinos eventually followed. But Calder’s endeavor is the largest so far. There’s a bar area and the feel of a backyard party. Hence, the name Backyard Casino.
But, like anything, there’s always the issue of working and playing well with others. Within 10 minutes of the opening, a large man sat at his machine and took very long draws on a big, thick cigar. His neighbor shook his head, and pulled his shirt up over his nose, creating a filter.
“The Backyard Casino was built to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers alike in South Florida’s largest open-air gaming space,” said Matt Harper, senior director of marketing. “For our non-smoking guests, their experience will remain the same. The Backyard Casino was built as a separate building with a mix of the latest and greatest games, connected to the main casino through a set of double doors to preserve the non-smoking gaming space that our guests currently enjoy.”