Earlier this month, I received notice that smoking would be banned inside Churchill Downs as of November 25, 2007, in compliance with a Louisville ordinance that smoking is not permitted inside any bar, restaurant, bingo hall, bowling alley, or public building; basically, it excludes one's house (but what about public housing??). Louisville government officials came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that Al Gore wasn't crazy after all and the air quality really could use some improvement, and that smoking, in general, is not good for you.
Apparently, Churchill Downs, the Hallowed Grounds of American Horse Racing, site of the most prestigious race, which you may or may not of heard of, the Kentucky Derby, multi-million dollar revenue generator for Louisville and Jim Beam and Mint Juleps, had managed to finagle an exemption in the smoking ordinance. Gambling, liquor, and cigarettes – which vice do you eliminate?
So, Churchill Downs’ Champion Lounge remained a smoking friendly atmosphere. That is, until a couple of restaurant and bar owners in the neighborhood, who by the way probably benefit financially from Churchill Downs sometime around the first weekend in May, said, “Hey, wait a minute … if we can’t have smokers in our establishments, they shouldn’t either.” Needless to say, on October 12th, Judge Denise Clayton ruled that the exemption to allow smoking at Churchill Downs violated the equal protection clause in the state constitution.
Customers of the smoking persuasion at Churchill Downs are now only permitted to smoke outdoors. Now, that’s not so bad on a nice sunny afternoon when there is live racing. However, year-round simulcasting is generally not considered an “outside” entertainment source. In an attempt to provide concerned racing enthusiasts of both the smoking and non-smoking kind factual information, I contacted Julie Koenig-Loignon:
Our customers are permitted to smoke out of doors. That includes our many balconies, in the outdoor seating areas and on the "bricks" around the paddock area. These areas are adjacent to our simulcast wagering area. The Louisville smoking ordinance does not cover smoking out of doors, so those areas remain available to our customers.
There is a balcony right outside the Silks and Champions Lounges. Also customers in the simulcast-wagering area can step out into our outdoor, box seating areas. All are in close proximity.
I asked Julie Koenig-Loignon if Churchill Downs anticipated a financial effect as well as a change in attendance figures. She provided the following,
We do anticipate a negative impact on handle and attendance, as we draw customers from both Kentucky and Southern Indiana. There is an off-track betting facility in Clarksville, Ind., (just across the river) that does permit smoking indoors. Our Florida track, Calder Race Course, experienced declines in handle after a smoking ban was instituted in Calder's community in 2005. At this point, we cannot forecast what the financial impact will be. We are doing our best to educate our customers on where they still can smoke at Churchill Downs, which is out of doors.
I also inquired as to whether Judge Denise Clayton was a smoker or had ever been to Churchill Downs, however Julie Koenig-Loignon did not know.
Anyway, Churchill Downs is abiding by the courts decision. Signage in the Champions’ Lounge alerts smokers of the policy change. Ashtrays are strategically placed outside of the building. No word as to whether simulcast monitors and tote machines will be available in the elements for the smoking bettors, but Julie Koenig-Loignon infers that bettors can easily make a wager prior to a race, step outside for a quick drag, and pop back inside prior to post time. Also, it is unknown at this time as to whether plans are underway to schedule a future Handicapping / Smoking Cessation Seminar with Mike Battaglia.