Bossier City’s long history of trying to count coup on Shreveport for once might serve it well, with an opportunity presenting itself through a blunder by the latter.
For decades, Bossier City leaders have burdened themselves with a psychological inferiority complex relating to their larger and better-known (and, to many outsiders, with a more easily-pronounceable name) neighbor across the Red River. Feeling overshadowed, they have pursued policies attempting to make their city stand out from, if not look better than, Shreveport.
Usually, it has led to undesirable consequences. Leaders chafed when no comprehensive hospital located in Bossier City, so they decided to build the government-run Bossier Medical Center. That worked out until it became apparent that Willis-Knighton Systems would come to town with an initial offer allegedly for $42 million to buy BMC, whereupon egos kicked in and city leaders refused it. WKS then built its own, drove BMC numbers steeply into the red, and in a short time the city had a fire sale of the facility, which no longer operates, for $18 million. (Two city councilors from that era, no party Jeff Darby and Democrat Bubba Williams, still serve on the Council.)
That was just an opportunity missed, as opposed to the current money pit that is the Brookshire Grocery Arena. Built just after the BMC debacle for tens of millions more dollars than at first contemplated, it has consistently lost money year after year. But city leaders wanted a modern indoor arena to contrast with what Shreveport had available (the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, which technically isn’t even the city’s but is part of a nonprofit organization), so rather than wait on a nongovernment entity to build one it took the plunge, to taxpayers’ everlasting regret.
Typically, it has been the heavy hand of government intervention, spending more to bulk up, that Bossier City has turned to in order to draw its intended contrast which then backfired, stubbornly resisting the idea that a government that spent less with lower taxation and fees would create more incentive for people to live and work there. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, to make people love their city, the city ought to be lovely.
Now there presents a way to do that with a much more valid dose of government intervention, courtesy of Shreveport’s impending jettison of a total smoking ban at its casinos. Earlier this week it changed its ordinance regarding smoking to require just a quarter of the area of a casino, boat or land, to be nonsmoking. It’s uncertain whether Republican Mayor Tom Arceneaux will veto it or, if so, that veto would be overridden as it passed on a 4-2 vote.
Practically speaking, that means there is no ban at all. No technology can prevent smoke from wafting around nonsmoking areas. In essence, this puts the facilities off-limits to anybody who suffers physiologically from having to breathe smoke.
Shreveport thusly becomes the first jurisdiction in the country to reverse itself on a smoking ban. The rationale for the declining city, facing sharp population loss and revenue retrenchment as a result, to do this was the restriction hurt the bottom line of the city’s casinos and therefore related city tax collections. Theoretically, one could make an argument that enforcement of nonsmoking could do this, for gambling is an addictive behavior like smoking with a relatively high association between the two, Thus, a smoking ban disproportionately could chase away chumps.
Yet the data don’t indicate as such. Smoking bans have gone into place in all of the state’s largest cities for casinos, but changes in revenue in places that did largely have tracked those located in jurisdictions that continue to allow smoking. Indeed, a review of Shreveport and Bossier City markets, with the latter continuing to allow people to smoke up in casinos, shows no significant difference in revenue changes.
Changes trending down, of course, that have little to do with smoking and everything to do with increased competition from Texas but particularly tribal casinos in Oklahoma. It seems that smoking bans are basically unrelated with revenues because of a substitution effect. Smokers tend to be older, less educated, and lower-income compared to nonsmokers, so it may be that potentially fewer admittances by smokers could be partially offset by some nonsmokers who then lose more lucre.
Regardless, a deeper civil rights issue remains. A growing portion of the population suffers from pulmonological conditions where even a hint of smoke can send them into distress, something they can’t control – as opposed to smoking, which is an entirely voluntary action where consequences are exported to other people who can avoid these only by curtailing their own autonomy. In fact, with smoking in the population at nearly half its rate of two decades ago, the proportions of smokers and people with pulmonological diseases are about equal.
While argumentation about exportation of smoke onto others, such as casino employees, that can impact negatively their health merit investigation as there appears to be some association between someone’s health and breathing in smoke, there is no doubt that a causal mechanism exists where smoke negatively affects directly some people’s pulmonological health. In essence permitting smoking in any part of a casino denies a portion of the population the ability to work there, eat there, gamble there, and be entertained in whatever other way there – meaning smokers are privileged in their conduct of a voluntary behavior over those who suffer from a disability they must bear involuntarily.
Decades ago, when mainly in the South and profusely in Shreveport and Bossier City citizens shamefully were discriminated against merely for the color of their skin in the conduct of commerce, the U.S. Congress stepped in and legislated to guarantee that people couldn’t be denied commercial access solely on the basis of that. In our constitutional system, health matters are governed by states, and local governments if delegated that way by the states. A statewide ban by Louisiana on smoking in casinos would be best, but absent that local governments should take up that in order to protect equal access for vulnerable citizens.
Bossier City instituting a smoking ban in its casinos would produce a rare instance where the city in trying to distinguish itself from Shreveport acted on the whole actually to increase its citizens’ autonomy and quality of life. That it hasn’t done this to date is to its discredit, but that’s magnified if it fails to act when served this reminder of the west bank’s stupidity.