by Eileen Weber
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced on February 9th that the two state casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, should be smoke-free by October 2011. This comes as good news for fans of fresh air. To casino owners, however, it is a death knell to their revenue base in a bad economy.
Gambling and smoking often go hand in hand. Casino owners fear that gamblers will go to another casino that doesn’t have a smoking ban, even if it means driving a longer distance. As a result, revenue is down and jobs are cut.
But there is little concern for the casinos’ cash base when personal well-being is in the spotlight. In a press release, Blumenthal made the statement that there is a common goal for a “complete ban on smoking because casinos shouldn't be gambling with public health.” He continued by saying, “The casinos are dealing workers and visitors a losing hand on cancer and tobacco addiction."
The ban will take affect later this year in a three-step phase that will end in the fall of 2011. "The casinos must be smoke-free,” said Blumenthal. “The ban must be total, even if the battle is tough. Short-term fixes and gimmicks like ventilation systems and segregated smoking areas simply prolong the problem.”
The Connecticut casinos are the not the only ones to take a hit from the smoking ban. Increasingly, casinos across the country have been politically mandated to be smoke-free.
Many casino employees say it’s difficult to work in a smoky environment and it affects their health. Both smokers and non-smokers are affected by long-term exposure to tobacco smoke. Heart disease, cancer, and emphysema are just a few of the major players in tobacco-related disease. Studies have shown that workers exposed to cigarette smoke on a regular basis have an increased risk of lung cancer by nearly 20%.
But there are some employees who weigh their personal health against having a weekly paycheck. “It’s hard, especially nowadays with the economy the way it is, to find a job,” said Karena Walters, an Indiana casino worker as quoted by NativeTimes.com, “I don’t feel that I should have to choose between my job and my health.”
According to CasinoGamblingWeb.com, dozens of states nationwide have banned smoking in casinos. This past fall, smoking was banned in casinos in nearby Atlantic City. Even Donald Trump, owner of three casinos in Atlantic City, spoke out about the ban. He openly opposes smoking, but recognizes how it affects the gambling industry. “It's a sad day for Atlantic City,” Trump was quoted on the site. “It puts Atlantic City in a huge competitive disadvantage with casinos in other states."
But there are many states that ban indoor smoking and exempt the casinos, particularly those run by Native American tribes. For example, Iowa and Oregon have banned indoor smoking but not in Native American casinos.
The tribes that own the casinos feel the ban is a threat to their tribal rights. “Tribal sovereignty deserves respect,” Blumenthal said in response to the Mohegan and Masshantucket Pequot tribes here in Connecticut, “but it must yield to health or safety as a priority.”
A study conducted by the EPA last spring compared air quality of particulate matter levels in smoking and non-smoking sections. The organization says that up to 35 milligrams of particulate matter is still considered healthy indoor air quality. But the smoking sections had 159 milligrams per cubic meter. The non-smoking, while better, came in at 48 milligrams per cubic meter—well above the accepted level for healthy air quality.
This is one of the main reasons behind banning smoking entirely. The non-smokers are still breathing in bad air. Breathing bad air causes long-term health problems. Long-term health problems affect workers and their jobs.
“Second-hand smoke cannot be made safe. There is no safe way to smoke,” said Blumenthal. “I respect that casinos are grappling with a tough economy and competition, which is why a phased ban makes sense, but the casinos cannot play with a stacked deck on smoking…The endgame is nonnegotiable: a complete ban cannot be left to chance."