Smoke-free casinos won’t be a reality this year in St. Louis.
A bill that would’ve banned smoking at casinos in St. Louis County failed to pass the County Council. But health officials have proposed a new bill that would ban smoking on county property and limit casino smoking to up to half of the property’s floor.
The proposed smoking regulations are the latest turn in what has been a circuitous route to reducing the impact of second-hand smoke in St. Louis County.
Bill took months to get consideration
In April, the County Council discussed the bill at one of its regular meetings. Several council members expressed concern and requested that Chair Shalonda Webb put the bill on hold so the council could learn more about it and hear from stakeholders.
The original version of the bill did two main things:
- It removed the exception that gave casinos the power to allow smoking
- It provided rules for smoking on county property
Throughout the discussions, it became clear that banning smoking in Missouri casinos was a no-go. So, Webb updated the bill to include a provision that would ban smoking in up to 50% of a casino’s floor space:
“…up to 50% of the area of a state-licensed gambling facility where gaming is allowed for those twenty-one (21) years of age or older, including any VIP lounge accessible only through the game floor, whether or not gaming is allowed in the VIP lounge.”
What remains to be seen is how the bill would be enforced if the county commission passes it. The use of “up to” means casinos could lead to casinos designating a smoke-free area that makes up as little as 1% of the gaming floor or as much as 50% of the gaming floor.
The movement against casino smoking gains steam
The push to ban smoking in casinos has gained momentum over the past few years. Much of the movement centers on the health of employees who are often subjected to cigarette smoke throughout their shifts.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that such conditions are a grave health hazard:
“The level of smoking in a casino can be especially high compared with other enclosed public places where smoking is permitted. For example, one study revealed that 50% of the casinos sampled had air pollution levels known to cause cardiovascular disease after only 2 hours of exposure.”
Activist groups like Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) have rallied together to push lawmakers to ban casino smoking in states that still allow it. Concerted efforts to end smoking in casinos are underway in five states.
CEASE noted that previous to the pandemic, 54% of people believed smoking in casinos was “not OK for anyone.” Post-pandemic, that number jumped to 66%. That shift in public opinion may very well lead to more states banning smoking in casinos.
Overall, nine states require casinos to be smoke-free, according to the CDC:
- New York
- South Dakota