Too soon to determine smoke ban’s revenue impact

HELENA – Since Helena voters approved the clean indoor air ordinance in June, word on the street has been that business in bars and casinos has suffered greatly. Business was down as much as 60 percent at some casinos, hospitality industry officials told the IR last month.

The state recently released the first tax-collection statistics that cover some of the time the ordinance has been in effect. The smoking ordinance was in effect for only one of the three months included in the most recent figures, which cover April through June of this year. However, other cities enacting bans have shown that any economic impact is greatest immediately after the ordinance passes.

One expert says it’s impossible to draw any conclusions at all for the numbers through June.

“It’s just too early to tell,” said Paul Polzin, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. “You need at least one full quarter to know. Maybe they had two heavy months in April and May. There simply isn’t enough data yet.”

Steve Morris, a local restaurateur and president of the Montana Tavern Association, was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

There are, perhaps not surprisingly, several ways to read the early numbers, but none of them indicate the heavy decreases claimed by local UFABet casino owners. Again, the most recent numbers available include only one month of the ordinance; a clearer picture won’t emerge until October, when the first quarter of fiscal year 2003 (July through September) becomes available.

In Helena, the fourth quarter of this fiscal year (April through June) showed a 6.4 percent increase in gambling taxes collected over the same quarter of 2001. That’s slightly below the 7.3 percent jump from the fourth quarter of 2000 to the fourth quarter …