Rhode Island casino workers are hoping for a breath of fresh air. The group has been working over the past two years to ban smoking in two Rhode Island casinos.
State officials prohibited smoking during the pandemic but lifted the ban once the pandemic receded. That move was the wrong choice for casino workers concerned about their health.
Though more than half of states have banned smoking in casinos outright, 22 still allow it. In Rhode Island, gamblers can still light up because of a loophole in state law.
Rhode Island casino workers continue the anti-smoking fight
The issue for Rhode Island casino workers is health. Secondhand smoke has long been known to be dangerous.
According to the CDC, secondhand smoke can increase the risk of the following conditions in nonsmokers by up to 30%:
- Heart attacks
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Other cancers
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has taken a keen interest in monitoring casinos’ smoking policies, as casinos that allow smoking is a health hazard.
Per the CDC, one study found that some casino air is so polluted it could cause cardiovascular disease after two hours of exposure. Another study discovered that, even in well-ventilated casinos, fine-particle air pollution levels were four to six times higher than outside air.
All this pollution can hurt casino workers (and patrons) who spend hours inhaling that air. The CDC said:
“By the nature of their work, casino workers cannot remove themselves from smoking areas, even for small amounts of time during a shift. Because secondhand smoke can seep into other areas of casino buildings, such as restaurants and retailers, kids and other nonsmoking patrons are also at risk.”
Additionally, the CDC noted that communities that chose comprehensive smoking bans reported up to a 17% reduction in hospital heart attack admissions compared to communities with the same laws.
State Rep. Teresa Tanzi fighting to close casino loophole
So far, the casino workers against smoking haven’t made much progress. However, they’re gaining the attention of state politicians.
For example, State Rep. Teresa Tanzi sponsored a bill last year that tried to ban casino smoking. And, she recently told The Boston Globe that she’s working on legislation to close the loophole.
“I find it appalling that workers at casinos are not given the same protections as any other workers,” she said. “There is no safe level of secondhand tobacco exposure. I’ll just keep working until it’s eliminated.”
Tanzi’s bill will eliminate a rule in the state’s Public Health and Workplace Safety Act that banned smoking in all indoor public spaces.
Prohibiting smoking doesn’t negatively affect a casino’s bottom line
A recent study published by research firm C3 Gaming may boost Tanzi and casino workers’ arguments. The study found that banning smoking does not, in fact, reduce casino revenue.
“Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue,” the study said. “In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”
Additionally, it argued that banning smoking lowers the cost of everything from HVAC maintenance and furniture replacement to cleaning costs.
In the past, casino smoking bans have cut into profits
Tanzi and casino workers are facing an uphill battle, though. Casinos have argued that smoking bans cut into revenue. For example, a 2o09 study found that an Illinois smoking ban dropped casino revenue by 20%, and state and local governments lost out on $200 million in tax revenue.
More recent studies suggest revenue drops are lower now that fewer people smoke. Around 12% of people in the US were smokers in 2020, according to Statista, compared to around 20.6% in 2010.
Casinos never take too kindly to losing a significant chunk of their revenue. Tanzi can expect continued pushback from the state’s two casinos, Bally’s Tiverton and Bally’s Twin River.
Bally’s Twin River is expanding its gaming floor. The new facility will include an entire floor set aside for nonsmokers.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he doesn’t believe Twin River should be forced to ban smoking since it’s taking steps to accommodate nonsmokers, according to the Globe.