There has been a lot of talk about banning indoor smoking at casinos these days.
Second-hand smoke can lead to serious health problems like lung cancer, asthma, or heart disease. Casino workers, dealers and bartenders have had enough and are tired of being forced to choose between their health and earning money for a living.
The Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) is the organization of workers calling on their employers and legislators to end outdated and dangerous indoor smoking policies. The coalition was formed in Atlantic City after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ended his emergency health order in July 2021, which temporarily forbade casino smoking.
Casino workers in Kansas have recently joined forces to create CEASE Kansas, a group of gaming industry employees aimed at stopping smoking in casinos.
Meanwhile, Virginia casino workers have joined CEASE. Workers employed in the recently legalized commercial gaming market have joined the group and are fighting to end indoor smoking.
Apart from Kansas and Virginia, there are three more CEASE chapters nationwide representing workers:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
Rhode Island casino workers and health advocates gathered to testify at the hearing supporting legislation ending indoor smoking in RI casinos.
Atlantic City workers met last month to vote on bills to close the casino smoking loophole. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Democrats reintroduced a bill to ban smoking inside PA casinos.
The Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP asked Shreveport’s mayor to protect casino workers from second-hand smoke. It was after the city council recently revoked a smoking ban in casinos dating from 2021.
Two weeks ago, Shreveport Mayor Tom Arceneaux released a statement saying he will not veto the legislation but will also not sign it. On May 23, the Shreveport City Council repealed a ban on smoking inside casinos. As of this month, 25% of Louisiana casino gaming floors will be designated as “non-smoking,” while 75% of gaming floors will allow it.
Even though the CEASE organization and legislators have put in a lot of effort, the US smoking laws have remained unchanged since the group’s 2021 creation. Nearly half of US jurisdictions still allow indoor smoking on casino floors in some form, and we take a look at some of them.
Virginia is the latest state to join the CEASE coalition
Virginia is the latest state to join the CEASE coalition and the national fight against smoking inside casinos. Casino workers in the state want to put a stop to smoking indoors. The state is home to three casinos:
- The permanent Rivers Casino Portsmouth
- Temporary locations – Hard Rock Bristol and Caesars Danville
Virginia’s Indoor Clean Air Act from 2009 provides exemptions for gaming facilities. Virginia’s commercial gaming industry only included horse racetrack pari-mutuel and off-track betting when the law was passed. The state also offers a lottery.
Juana Wilson, an ex-worker at Rivers Portsmouth, founded the CEASE Virginia subdivision. Wilson and CEASE Virginia request Rivers Casino Portsmouth to entirely ban indoor smoking as its gaming floor is currently only 80% smoke-free. They also want the Virginia General Assembly to end the indoor casino smoking loophole through legislative action.
Rhode Island lawmaker reintroduced a bill to ban smoking inside casinos
Last year, State Rep. Teresa Tanzi introduced a bill including casinos in the statewide workplace smoking ban. With the support of state Sen. Susan Sosnowski, Tanzi introduced legislation that seeks to ban indoor smoking at two Rhode Island casinos:
- Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino
- Bally’s Tiverton Casino
As Tanzi emphasized, casinos are the only exempted workplace from the 2004 Public Health and Workplace Safety Act, which was implemented in March 2005.
As mentioned in a press release by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, Last month, the workers met to express support for a bill that would completely ban smoking in the state. The Rhode Island Senate Committee on Finance is to consider S438, according to ABC6. Two months ago, the House Committee on Finance met to hear H5237. It’s a companion bill that would eliminate the exemption for casinos from the state’s smoke-free workplace law.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, smoking was prohibited inside some casinos. Workers are now telling lawmakers they experienced a positive impact on their health and therefore want a complete ban.
Last week, during an event for the Rhode Island Report podcast, RI Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio rejected calls to end smoking at RI casinos.
He argued that employees knew the smoking policy when they accepted their jobs. As an alternative, Ruggerio suggested wearing masks or working in non-smoking areas instead of endorsing the legislation. He also expressed worries about potential revenue loss for the state budget if smoking were banned.
CEASE responded to Ruggerio’s comments with strong criticism. Co-leader of CEASE Rhode Island, Vanessa Baker, stressed that no one should be forced to breathe second-hand smoke while at work. She considered Ruggerio’s comments a “slap in the face” to the hundreds of casino employees who are “the backbone” of the gaming industry, as detailed in a post by The Boston Globe.
New Jersey casino workers call for a vote on smoke-free casino legislation
Atlantic City casino workers held a press conference on May 25 outside the State House Annex courtyard before meeting with lawmakers. The workers called lawmakers for legislative leadership to hold votes on bills to protect their health and close the casino smoking loophole.
United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders, the union representing casino workers most affected by second-hand smoke exposure, joined CEASE for a press conference.
A remarkable 70% of the New Jersey legislature has cosponsored two bills, S264 and A2151, to close the casino smoking loophole and protect the health of casino workers. So far, the bills have earned 83 cosponsors, 26 in the Senate and 57 in the Assembly.
With the Clean Air Act in 2006, New Jersey banned smoking inside bars, restaurants, and other public places. But the law involved a provision allowing casinos to permit smoking on up to 25% of their gaming floors.
Casino workers and anti-smoking advocates have spent years fighting for the legislation. They have long argued casino employees face health risks from second-hand smoke.
While some fear the ban would bring economic threats to New Jersey, smoking in US casinos paused during the pandemic without consequences. This temporary ban was one year long, from July 2020 to July 2021. In the first quarter of 2021, Atlantic City casinos took 11% more revenue than in the first quarter of 2019. Casino operators disagree, saying they could lose up to 16% of their business if customers cannot smoke anywhere indoors.
Lawmakers worry that voting on extreme measures like a smoke ban could cost them votes. That’s why they would rather wait to take up such bills until after the elections.
Smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos faces ban
Pennsylvania approved its Clean Indoor Air Act in 2008. According to the law, people cannot smoke inside public places and their workspace. But there are exemptions where smoking is allowed because of the revenue they generate.
Under Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act, casinos are among the few places that allow indoor smoking. Players are allowed to smoke within the selected areas as long as they don’t exceed 50% of the gaming floor. Other sites include cigar lounges and private clubs.
Earlier this year, Democrats acting on behalf of Allegheny County, Sen. Jay Costa and Rep. Dan Frankel, reintroduced a bill to ban smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos. Frankel is also a cosponsor of the Protecting Workers from Second-hand Smoke Act. The bill aims to end indoor smoking in casinos, protecting employees from second-hand smoke.
As reported by CBS Pittsburgh, Frankel said:
“What this is about is public health. We know that smoking kills people 22,000 people in PA every year. Many of those people are affected by second-hand smoke.”
Rivers Casino Philadelphia banned smoking two years ago. During the coronavirus pandemic, Philadelphia had some of the strictest rules in the country. And Rivers Casino forbade smoking during the entire duration of the pandemic.
Starting this year, Rivers announced it reintroduced designated smoking areas on the gaming floor. The non-smoking areas include:
- Banquet rooms
- Poker rooms
- Many other spaces
While Mount Airy Casino also allows smoking in some areas, Parx Casino and Parx Shippensburg are the only smoke-free casinos.
New Jersey’s fight to ban indoor smoking at casinos is further along than Pennsylvania’s. Once that happens in New Jersey, it could help the PA fight.
Kansas casino workers getting closer to banning smoking in casinos
Kansas casino workers joined the national worker coalition fighting to end smoking inside casinos. The workers announced they are joining forces to fight for their health by advocating to close the casino smoking loophole in state law.
Joe Hafley, the founder of CEASE Kansas, said in an ANRF news release:
“We are joining our peers from across the country and launching CEASE Kansas to demand a clean and safe working environment for the thousands of workers who are the backbone of the gaming industry.”
He went on to add: “As a security officer, I have to deal with all areas of the casino, including the smoking section that covers most of the gaming floor. Even if I’m not stuck on a gaming table like some of my coworkers, I’m still forced to breathe second-hand smoke throughout my shift and go home smelling like cigarettes.
For far too long, casino workers have been the only community of people who lack protections from the dangers of second-hand smoke in our workplace. We have already been successful in getting several lawmakers to cosponsor legislation to close the casino smoking loophole in Kansas and I know that our new CEASE chapter will help get this across the finish line.”
Kansas made an actual effort with a worker-led movement to protect casino workers in April when the Senate voted to close the casino smoking loophole. An act eliminating casinos’ exemption from the Kansas Indoor Clean Air got a green light in the state Senate. The casino smoking statute should be taken up in the Kansas State House in January 2024.
Hafley played a vital role and engaged many cosponsors in legislation that would eventually eliminate smoking inside casinos.