Smoking Ban’s Unlikely Victim: Pull Tabs

Puffing outside can seriously interrupt a player’s rhythm.

More than two years have passed since the state's smoking ban went into effect, and, for the most part, Seattleites have accepted it. To wit, since Initiative 901 became law in December 2005, restaurant and bar revenues have more or less returned to normal, says Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Restaurant Association. What hasn't recovered, however, is pull tab income. In 2005, gross receipts from pull tabs were $362.5 million. Since the smoking ban, pull tab revenue has steadily declined, dipping 12.1 percent in 2006, and another 10.8 percent in 2007. There may, however, be relief—for smokers, at least. Proponents of the Cigar Bar Relief Act (Initiative 1016) are gathering signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. They need 225,000 by June 30. The initiative would allow smoking in cigar shops and cigar bars that make more than $25,000 annually from the sale of stogies. This exemption would also extend to private clubs and service organizations, but probably not to purveyors of pull tabs. These cardboard facsimiles of slot machines tend to show up mainly in small bars and taverns. Unlike a beer, which can sit untouched while its owner puffs away outdoors, pull tabs require constant monitoring. Pull-tabbers like to develop a rhythm, Anton says. This means the gambler sits at the bar and draws pull tabs from the same bucket, essentially monopolizing it. The idea is, the more tabs you pull from the bucket, the better chance you have of hitting a jackpot. In the past, a cigarette could smolder in an ashtray until a particularly crummy run of luck called for a solid puff or three. Now, when a player's fortunes go in the tank, he or she must step outside for a smoke, leaving the bucket up for grabs. While Anton guesses that most proprietors "saw the writing on the wall," Renee Anderson, a bartender at the Tug Tavern in West Seattle, says the drop-off in pull tab action hasn't extended to her bar. Those who liked to smoke quit coming, she says, except "maybe once a week to bitch." Meanwhile, the nonsmokers who used to come only in the morning to avoid the nightly preponderance of nicotine now drop by in the evening as well.

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