A group of casino workers wants to end smoking in Atlantic City casinos. Now, they’ve widened their focus to include casinos across the nation.
Could Missouri casinos soon jump on the bandwagon to snuff out smoking?
CEASE looks to make casinos smoke-free
Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) is an employee-based organization that began protesting the resumption of smoking in Atlantic City casinos after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy okayed it in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Murphy now supports the group’s efforts to make the nine Atlantic City casinos smoke-free, he said he lacks the authority to independently reverse the law. The law permits casinos to assign up to 25% of their gaming floor space for smoking.
This means that smoking in Atlantic City casinos is still lawful.
At the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas two weeks ago, the group announced it would be stepping up its efforts to ban smoking from casino floors across the country — including Missouri’s 13 land-based casinos.
Smoke-free focus expands to Missouri & other states
CEASE — co-founded by Nicole Vitola, Pete Naccarelli and Lamont White — is looking to form groups in places across the nation where indoor casino smoking continues. So far, they’ve started a group in Rhode Island and hope to duplicate their success in Nevada and Pennsylvania, two of the largest gaming markets in the nation.
Naccarelli believes casino workers in other states are searching for ways to end smoking in their casinos. He said:
“This is not just a moment. This is a movement. We want casino workers in any city or state to band together, get organized, and fight to protect their health by finally ending dangerous indoor smoking. We’re making it easy for workers who may be nervous about speaking up to finally take the first step to stop choosing between their health and a paycheck . . . No casino in America should have indoor smoking, period.”
Speaking during a news conference in Las Vegas, Naccarelli urged casino workers across the country to contact CEASE.
Missouri lacks a statewide ban on indoor smoking
Missouri’s 5,863,113 people make it the 18th most-populated state in the union. More than 30 municipalities have adopted laws for 100% smoke-free workplaces in restaurants and bars.
However, The Show Me State does not have a statewide 100% smoke-free law. That means most of the population breathes in secondhand smoke at venues such as bars and casinos.
While 61% of Americans enjoy smoke-free protections in all public places and workplaces, only 29% of Missourians, by contrast, are protected.
Efforts to ban smoking have mostly failed
It is estimated that none of the nearly 10,000 workers in Missouri’s 13 casinos located in 11 cities across the state are protected from exposure to secondhand smoke. In the past few years, there has been solid local momentum toward 100% smoke-free laws in Missouri. As it stands, though, none of the cities with casinos have a smoke-free casino provision in effect.
Missouri Gaming Commission Chairman Mike Leara does not support smoke-free casinos.
“Part of the enjoyment of going to the casino has been being able to smoke.”
Councilman P.J. Kovac tried to prohibit smoking at the Frontier Casino, a riverboat casino on the edge of the Missouri River in St. Joseph. His attempt did not receive full support from the city council, which feared a smoking ban could put the casino at a competitive disadvantage. Stan Cowan, a retired public health official with the University of Missouri, scoffed at that.
“They are interested in profits over health. Is a casino worker’s health less valuable?”
State statute, as Cowan pointed out, requires the gaming commission to ensure casinos are not operating in a way that could harm the public. That also includes air quality, he said.
“Exposure to secondhand smoke is an unnecessary risk.”
Leara insisted that any decision on smoking has to be made by the individual casinos and the cities in which they operate.
“That’s a business decision that casinos would have to make.”
Many smokers support smoke-free casinos
Studies have shown that the majority of casino visitors, even current smokers, desire smoke-free spaces. But until efforts to legalize online MO casinos solidify, gamblers are left to frequent retail casinos. In a 2019 survey conducted nationally, 75% of US adults who visit casinos favor a smoke-free gaming experience.
The study found very high favorability among those aged 64 and above (81.6%), college-educated (81.7%) and higher income (79.1-80.8%). Thirteen percent of the sample were made up of smokers, of which nearly half (45%) supported smoke-free casinos.
Pat Conway, a former St. Joseph state representative who currently serves on the Missouri Gaming Commission, also believes a smoking ban would harm casino revenues, especially now that they’re trying to bounce back from the pandemic.
As a result of COVID-19 and its impact, revenue at the Frontier Casino dropped by just $40,000 in 2020. Even so, Conway thinks the time just isn’t right to ban smoking in casinos.
“I think smoking will change again in the next decade just as it has in the last 20 or 30 years.”
Smoking may no longer jeopardize casino revenue
In the past, conventional wisdom dictated that eliminating smoking in casinos would automatically lead to revenue decline and customer loss. But a new C3 Gaming report released in June seems to debunk that theory.
According to the report, the pandemic changed several key aspects of the casino experience. Customers have gotten used to housekeeping no longer being done every day, many buffets closing, and an end to room service.
The report suggests customers would accept smoke-free casino floors as well:
“Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue. In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be doing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”
Presently, more than 20 states have banned or limited smoking inside casinos. A few states, including Pennsylvania, limited smoking in 2020 as part of reopening plans under COVID-19 health and safety regulations.