Despite claims that Casper smokers would leave the city to seek refuge in Mills or Evansville, it doesn’t seem that bar crowds have changed much since September.
The city’s new smoking ban isn’t driving out many city residents, according to DUI arrest data, beer sales, taxi rides and anecdotal comments. The evidence doesn’t offer definitive proof Casper businesses are surviving the ban, but it’s an initial sign that Casper residents mostly aren’t going elsewhere to smoke while they drink.
Opponents of the city’s smoking ban anticipated a decrease in business and an increase in drunken drivers as people migrated to the outlying towns, but statistics show DUIs for all three municipalities have actually decreased.
Evansville Police Chief Zach Gentile said the department has the resources to pursue drunken drivers, so the lower numbers aren’t a result of lacking enforcement.
“It’s just not happening,” he said. “And we’re happy about that.”
Casper Cabs reported regular business with only a few additional rides from Casper to Evansville in the past seven months. The cab riders did not say they were specifically going outside Casper to smoking establishments. Company officials said most people taking cabs from Casper still went to bars in Casper.
Matt Williams, a Sandbar Lounge patron and Frosty’s Bar & Grill night cook, said the number of smokers at Frosty’s has stayed about the same and he hasn’t heard of many smokers leaving town. He himself has stayed within city limits.
“I really haven’t been going to any bars outside Casper,” Williams said.
Keith Thomson, the Budweiser general manager for Casper Beverage distributors, would not release the number of sales for individual businesses but said there has been a slight change in Casper sales since January.
He estimated sales of Budweiser beer increased anywhere from 8 to 36 percent at establishments in Mills and Evansville, with about a 30 percent decrease in Casper’s former smoking venues.
The decrease was not across the board, though, and some former smoking locations actually reported a 6 to 7 percent increase.
“There’s always possibilities of other causes,” Thomson said. “I definitely would not say it’s absolutely due to the smoking ban, but seems to be a pattern.”
The few who do go elsewhere still patronize Casper bars on occasion. Residents Pat Smith and Debbie Laleman said they now go to Casper’s Good Cooking or Dori Lou’s so they can have a cigarette while eating but still visit the Sandbar. They have been customers at the bar for nearly six years.