St. Louis Casino Smoking Ordinance Compromise Reached

Written By T.J. McBride on August 18, 2023
Smoking is allowed at two St. Louis County casinos.

The back and forth fight surrounding smoking in St. Louis County casinos has reached a compromise after five years.

Voters elected to ban tobacco use inside St. Louis County casinos in 2018. Officials, however, repealed that ballot measure two years later due to a significant reduction in gaming revenue, which led to less taxes for the county and state.

Now, the St. Louis County Council and Penn Entertainment have struck a compromise. Penn operates the two casinos in St. Louis County: River City Casino Hotel and Hollywood Casino & Hotel.

The two sides met in the middle.

St. Louis County casinos can allocate up to 50% of gaming space to smokers

There are 13 casinos in The Show Me State. Missouri online casinos are illegal, as is Missouri sports betting of any kind.

At first, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and local Health Department Director Dr. Kanika Cunningham were working with other council members to make the two casinos in the county smoke-free.

Penn claimed that making them smoke-free would put both casinos at a disadvantage to other casinos in Missouri. Both River City and Hollywood are consistently among the top revenue-earning casinos in the state, but the margins are thin, Penn argued.

Members of the St. Louis County Council were convinced. Instead of a complete ban on smoking, casinos could make half of their gaming space smoking-friendly. The St. Louis County Clean Air Code was amended to allow smoking in the casinos. The amendment passed unanimously.

The statute, after Page signs it into law, will allow smoking in “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.”

If a person is found to be smoking in a non-smoking area, they can be fined up to $250.

Anti-smoking group scoffs at compromise

While some saw the compromise as a fair solution, others saw it much differently. Cynthia Hallet, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said guests and workers will continue to face unhealthy conditions at the casinos.

“The notion of a partial smoking policy in casinos is a failed attempt to address the serious health concerns of casino workers and only serves to appease the gaming and tobacco industries. The evidence is stark, and the message is clear. Compromised policies compromise health. Secondhand smoke respects no boundaries. And allowing smoking in designated areas cannot cloak the pervasive risks it poses.”

St. Louis County surrounds the city of St. Louis, but the city is independent. That means Horseshoe St. Louis can allow smoking on its entire gaming floor if it chooses.

How other states have tackled the issue of smoking on casino floors

Missouri is not the first state to work toward a smoke-free environment for its casinos. Many states have smoke-free options, and a handful of states have outlawed smoking in all casinos.

According to the American Gaming Association, there are 10 states that have adopted completely smoke-free casinos.

  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • South Dakota

Most of these states outlawed smoking in casinos in 2010 or earlier, so there has been plenty of time for gamblers to get used to it. In addition, the removal of smoking from casinos has not caused a significant drop in revenue or tax dollars in most cases. If anything, it opens a new customer base of non-smokers.

John Cirrincione, chief executive of the Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel in New Mexico, which is smoke-free, spoke to the New York Times about this phenomenon.

“The old paradigm used to be: Well, smokers play more. But that’s years of excluding a large part of the public who don’t want to come into a smoky casino.”

Massachusetts gaming continues to grow with smoking ban

When Massachusetts outlawed smoking in casinos, the senate disregarded the claim that casinos would be hurt financially. June casino numbers this year were 8% higher than June 2022, showing growth in the market.

Only about 12.5% of adults in the US smoke as of 2020, which is more than 10% lower than in 2000. With fewer smokers in the country, it seems likely that most, if not all, casinos will eventually move away from allowing smoking. Most casinos now provide areas for smokers outside.

There is no denying that some gamblers will seek out casinos where they can smoke. But more and more, they are replaced by players ecstatic to gamble in a non-smoking environment.

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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a Denver-based NBA and Denver Nuggets reporter who brings his in-depth experience to sports betting coverage at PlayMissouri. He is a Southern California native with nearly eight years of experience covering the NBA.

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