BUTT OUT: Could the End of Smoking in Casinos and Poker Rooms Be Near?

June 15, 2020
BUTT OUT: Could the End of Smoking in Casinos and Poker Rooms Be Near?

Casinos are beginning to open up around the country with new state-mandated safety requirements. With all the new measures put in place, whether to allow smoking is now a regular topic of debate.

Will casinos continue to allow cigarette smoking on the gaming floor? Smoking is currently a fiery topic of discussion among casino and poker room regulars. Will this finally be the end of the casino smoking era?

Casinos and poker rooms reopen with big changes

Multiple states have now opened their casino floors with new health standards. Some casinos will not allow players into the establishment without masks on. Other orders include increased sanitation machines, plexiglass dividers at poker tables, and limited numbers of players in the casino. 

The Las Vegas Strip casinos reopened last week and one casino took a strong initiative. Park MGM will now be the first smoke-free casino in Las Vegas. The smoking ban includes the entire property, even hotel rooms.

Other MGM properties including the Bellagio appear to have made some changes.

Oneida casinos in Wisconsin are also adding strict requirements when reopening up this month. These requirements include a smoking ban, temperatures checked upon entry, and masks required for players and employees. 

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, Johns Hopkins Research Center statistics show that COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 112,000 people in the United States alone to date.

States and casinos have evaluated policies in response to the pandemic and focus on health. For some, that has included reassessing smoking policies.

Banning smoking at casino properties gains traction

Other states and cities are making strong moves to ban smoking. On June 9, the Shreveport city council voted 5-2 to ban smoking inside all casinos and bars in the Louisiana city. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is following suit in Michigan. Casinos will be limited to a 15% capacity and that will include a smoking ban.

Studies have listed smoking as a hindrance to Coronavirus recovery. Can the practice survive the post-pandemic casino environment?

“A recent analysis of six studies in China finds that smoking is most likely linked with poorer outcomes in COVID-19 patients,” Cancer.org notes. “This includes a study that received a lot of media attention, which found that among a small sample of COVID-19 patients in China, smokers were more likely to be in the group of patients whose condition worsened while hospitalized.”

Will policies affect casino turnout?

With smoking bans going in place, many may also wonder if this might affect turnout. Casinos have been closed for months and more than 41 million Americans have lost jobs.

In these kinds of economic times, can properties afford to lose potential customers? Could smoking bans be bad for business?

Cigarettes, vapes, and cigars certainly remain legal products in the US. Turning smokers away could be a costly decision. Casino companies may be looking more to recoup losses and bring players back in the doors.

Connecticut casino regular Steven Bruner believes gamblers and poker players won’t be deterred.

“I think players will show up no matter what,” he says.

Working in a smoking environment

Most casinos at least offer a smoking section on the casino floor. However, employees must still work in these areas.

As of 2018, 26 states have laws in place that ban smoking in all enclosed work areas, bars, and restaurants. These include New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Yet these have exceptions in place for casinos.

Overall, secondhand smoke remains an issue for the industry. Most casinos have smoking sections and high-tech filtration systems, but workers and patrons are still at risk. 

The U.S. Surgeon General took a look at the issue in a 2006 report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Secondhand Smoke.

“100% smoke-free workplace policies are the only effective way to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace,” the report notes. “Even sophisticated ventilation systems do not eliminate the health hazards of secondhand smoke.

“Casino, bar, and restaurant workers remain significantly more exposed to toxic secondhand smoke in their job site compared to other segments of the US workforce.”

Proponents of banning smoking also look at the issue from a business angle. Many believe less smoking will attract younger players and employees.

Are outdoor smoking areas the solution?

One idea is to have outside smoking areas only. Other ideas include enclosed smoking lounges or cigar bars where smoke doesn’t affect players on the floor. These would be separate from the casino floor.

“Nothing is worse than having a trip ruined with a headache by mistakenly venturing into a smoking zone on the casino floor,” Atlantic City poker player Brian Keane says.

Most smoking areas are currently located in slot machine areas on the casino floor. Currently there are no smoking poker rooms in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

Bally’s was the last smoking poker room in Atlantic City. Despite the lack of smoking in poker rooms, some properties do allow smoking just outside the poker area.

Currently New Jersey and Pennsylvania casinos do not have hard dates on when casinos will be up and running. As of now, cigarette smoking will still be allowed on the floor in designated areas. 

According to the World Health Organization: “The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year around the world.”

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