Bar owners upset about the state's smoking ban staged a boycott of a popular state lottery game last week. But, in large order, the bar owners boycotted the boycott.
Many bar owners said they could ill afford to lose any more money at a time when they say their businesses are struggling to cope with smoking bans and tougher drunken driving laws.
State lottery officials reported Monday that sales of the Quick Draw game last week were off from average weekly sales by a just a fraction of 1 percent -- down by just under $15,000 -- on sales of about $9 million.
Bar owners in favor of the boycott against Quick Draw, an electronic, keno-type game, said they were hoping to send Albany a message that it must revisit the state's 15-month-old smoking ban in bars and other public places.
But those not participating said they were concerned about losing money if they shut off the lucrative devices, in which they share a portion of the sales with the state.
Moreover, some feared it could raise the ire of regulators in Albany, where Quick Draw -- which last year totaled $150 million in revenue for the state -- is an important budget-balancer.
"I just felt I wasn't going to be able to make a difference. If I participated and the guy down the street didn't, the business would just go there," said Bill DeLuca, owner of Mr. Bill's Restaurant and Bar in Cheektowaga.
An opponent of the smoking ban, DeLuca said that he has seen his bar business slip nearly 18 percent since the prohibition went into effect in July 2003 and that betting on his Quick Draw machine has gone from $5,000 per week to less than $4,000. "No one is at the bar, and with no one at the bar, no one is playing," he said.
Lottery officials reported only a slight downward blip last week, which they attributed to normal weekly swings, not the boycott that was spearheaded by a New York City smokers' rights group.
In Chautauqua County, Brenda Perks, one of the organizers of the boycott, said bar owners were scared off by concern that the Lottery Division would punish Quick Draw contract holders if they participated in the protest. One group representing bar and restaurant owners in Brooklyn and Queens went so far as to send a letter to other business owners warning them that the boycott could put their Quick Draw license in jeopardy.
Perks, owner of Mel's Place, a bar in Falconer that does not have a Quick Draw machine, said supporters knew it would cost them money if they shut down the gambling machines. "We're trying to achieve the freedom of enterprise, the freedom of choice. They're taking our liberties away from us and they're doing it one step at a time," she said.
But bar owners that Perks and other organizers of the boycott pointed to as participants either said they didn't end up joining the protest or they declined to comment.
Scott Wexler, head of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, said some bar owners were worried about being publicly tied to a protest that would anger state officials. "If their name shows up as part of a protest, history shows the authorities visit them and bring the full weight of state government down on them," he said.
Several bar owners reported that state Lottery Division officials called or visited, urging them not to join the protest. Mauer, the lottery spokeswoman, said the agency "did nothing to affect" the boycott.