Bloomington to smokers: No dice

But trickle-down effects of ban emerging

Last night, the Bloomington city council voted 6-1 to uphold the first municipal smoking ban in the metro. The vote was somewhat surprising, given the full-court press bar owners have put on the council and the Hennepin County board in recent weeks. More to the point, the vote signaled to bar owners that there likely won't be any relief soon from the significant downturn in business.

The thought that was that Bloomington would be a weathervane for what Hennepin County might do, now that the comissioners recently voted to study the economic impact of the ban. And it's even more unclear whether Minneapolis will reconsider its ban.

But apparently the Bloomington council, as reported in today's Star Tribune, found the results of its own study less than compelling. Liquor sales are most certainly down across the board (some 24 percent in some venues), but food and lodging revenues are up, apparently.

Council member Steve Elkin, noting that "liquor, smoking and gambling" were on the decline, didn't see that as a public policy issue, according to the Strib.

Then again, one could argue that whether a private business allows its customers to smoke might not be a public policy issue either.

At any rate, some of the trickle-down economics of the ban are becoming evident. Many proponents of the various bans in Bloomington, Minneapolis, and Hennepin and Ramsey counties keep insisting that a decline in revenues is temporary, and that businesses will recover in time. Most bar owners disagree, saying that any uptick will come too late.

One area that's hard hit since the ban is charitable gaming, or pulltab business. Most of the booths in local bars earmark revenue for local community use, such as putting money toward parks or youth athletic programs. According to the state's Gambling Control Board, charitable gaming receipts in Ramsey County, where most traditional bars are exempted from the ban, are down in April and May this year (the first two months of the ban) from last by 7.3 percent. Last spring, revenues were $23.7 million, compared to $21.9 million this year.

Hennepin County, which has a total ban in all bars and restaurants (and, more significantly, "private clubs" like the American Legion and VFW outposts), notched a decline of $6.7 million, from $33.8 million to $27 million--a loss of more than 20 percent. In Minneapolis, the decline is closer to 24 percent, and Hennepin County stands to lose some $1.6 million in annual tax revenue due to the gambling losses.

And, word has it around town that any number of businesses--from carbonated beverage dealers to video game operators to ventilation system peddlers--have seen dips in business that likely won't ever come back up. But when Hennepin County gets around to releasing the results from its study later this fall, those losses won't be reflected.

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