Study Suggests Lifting Casino Smoking Ban Exemptions

Written By Derek Helling on February 27, 2023 - Last Updated on March 1, 2023
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In many jurisdictions like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, casino smoking is one of the last bastions of indoor combustible tobacco usage. A new study suggests that casinos’ attempts to separate smoking areas are insufficient to protect guests and workers from harmful effects, however.

The study measured solid matter in the air at casinos and found that the levels present were sufficient to potentially cause health problems. There are some limitations to the study’s scope, however, which make the authors’ conclusions less than scientific fact.

Casino smoking study shows harmful levels of tobacco smoke

The new study, published on Feb. 23 in the National Library of Medicine, utilized “personal aerosol monitors” inside eight Las Vegas casinos. The researchers visited each casino twice. During the visits, they took readings in both the areas where the casinos permit smoking and areas where smoking is not allowed.

One of the casinos, the Park MGM, has never lifted the smoking ban it put in place in September 2020. That casino, therefore, acted as a control for the other seven. The researchers were testing for particulate matter (solid particles in the air) with a diameter of no more than 2.5 micrometers, which the study calls “a surrogate for secondhand smoke.”

The results show that the seven casinos that have smoking areas registered far worse numbers. In the gaming areas, the average levels of such particles was over five times as high as at Park MGM (164.9 micrometers per cubic meter as opposed to 30.5 per cubic meter).

Even in the areas where smoking was not allowed at those casinos, the particulate matter was still almost twice as high as it was at Park (83.2 vs 48.1). While that probably comes as a surprise to no one and does present concerns about harmful secondhand smoke, there is some important context to note in this study.

What the study does and does not substantiate

This research does a good deal to show that if avoiding poor air quality is important to you, your best casino option in Las Vegas is the Park. You’re much more likely to encounter more harmful levels of pollutants at the other seven casinos in this study.

Beyond that context, though, most of this data doesn’t have a lot of use. The researchers cannot say with any confidence that casinos in other states would offer similar conditions. This study does not control for elements like the quality of ventilation systems at particular casinos. Additionally, it does not mention deviations in square footage between casinos.

The study’s authors in their conclusions state, “the only way to protect people from [secondhand smoke] exposure is to prohibit smoking in all indoor areas.” While this data supports that position, it does not conclusively prove that people are over five times more likely to develop health problems related to secondhand smoke exposure if they frequent casinos with indoor smoking areas or anything of that like.

For that reason, this study is anything but a game-changer for the ongoing debates over whether casinos should have exemptions from indoor smoking bans.

New Jersey’s casino smoking debate rages on

A bill that would end the exemption for Atlantic City casinos to New Jersey’s indoor smoking fan is still under consideration in Trenton. Formally, both Atlantic City casino owners and union representatives oppose the measure.

Both groups seem to fear a potential downturn in business if the exemption disappears. The available research on the matter is growing. For example, a June 2022 study suggested that such losses are nothing to fear, as many people have expressed they would spend more time at casinos if they were devoid of tobacco.

This most recent study could be useful for proponents of such legislation.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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