Last year was the first year new anti-smoking rules took affect here, banning smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. Bar-owners feared they would lose business, and the folks over at the PMU, our pari-mutuel monopoly, were worried the betting handle would fall off because so much betting is done at corner “Tabac” shops. I don’t know how the bar-owners are faring, but apparently it’s not necessary to smoke and bet at the same time, because the overall betting handle went up 4.8 percent, to 9.3 billion euros. Of that, 540 million was bet online, up from 431 million the previous year. Nothing stopping smokers from puffing away in front of their home computers.
According to a psychiatrist who studies addictive behavior quoted by the PMU, the types of gambling that suffered the most because of the smoking ban were repetitive games like slot machines or keno. As for the economic crisis, the psychiatrist, Jean-Luc Venisse, said there was no apparent impact on gambling, because two mind-sets offset each other: gambling offers a refuge from the crisis and the hope of winning, vs. gambling requires disposable income that is no longer available. Hmm. Gambling may have ridden out the smoking ban, but the numbers this year will offer a better look at whether Venisse is right on the impact of a weak economy.