The COVID-19 pandemic changed some things – temporarily and permanently – at Pennsylvania casinos. Some things have gone back to normal. Plexiglass has come down and temperature checks at the entrance are things of the past. However, some casinos pick and choose what becomes a part of their plans going forward.
Smoking has been one of those staples in casinos forever, but the pandemic has shifted the way businesses are operating.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia is now the latest casino in Pennsylvania to voluntarily ban smoking.
Another PA casino bans smoking
Rivers Casino Philadelphia became the third casino in PA to ban smoking entirely on the gaming floor. The ban took effect on April 29.
Representatives from Rivers Philadelphia said in a statement:
“Rivers Casino Philadelphia has decided to extend its temporary ban on indoor smoking for now. An outdoor patio has been designated for smokers, and guests have complied without issue. Rivers Casino Philadelphia will continue to monitor feedback, which has been positive.”
As of May 16, there has been no mention of the smoking ban on Rivers Philadelphia’s Facebook or Twitter page.
Philadelphia was under a mask mandate during the entire duration of the pandemic, except for a short period from June to August 2021. The city lifted the mask mandate on March 2, 2022. They decided to reinstate it on April 18, but it only lasted four days.
Three Pennsylvania casinos ban smoking
Parx Casino, located just outside of Philadelphia in Bensalem, went completely smoke-free in June 2021.
Mount Airy Casino also chose to remain smoke-free when the state lifted the mask mandate.
Neither casino has faltered in the revenue department. Rivers Philadelphia will look to continue the trend of success as a smoke-free casino.
Chris Moyer, founder and President of Moyer Strategies, which represents Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, told PlayPennsylvania:
“There’s definitely excitement about casinos deciding on their own to ban smoking. It’s the right thing for them, their employees and putting their employees’ health as a priority.”
More casino employees speak up
Cigarette smoking has reached an all-time low. Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and New York all have casinos that are smoke-free. Moyer said the momentum to get rid of smoking is coming from casino employees:
“There’s been a lot of momentum behind Atlantic City casinos going smoke-free led by workers who have been speaking out in ways they haven’t before. They typically feared retaliation, being punished by their bosses and their companies. They’ve just had enough. They’ve been courageous in speaking out and I think other workers are going to be inspired by that.”
Mike Danay is one of those employees speaking up. He’s sick of the smoke. He worked in Atlantic City casinos for 18 years before moving to Live! Casino Philadelphia in 2021.
He, too, has seen and is proud of Atlantic City employees for speaking up.
“I’m really proud of them. They stay strong and focused. They’re about to push it over the finish line.”
Danay said that the proximity of casinos in Atlantic City makes it easier for employees to speak up, compared to casinos being spread out across the state in Pennsylvania.
“In Atlantic City, they can ban together and march down the boardwalk. When you see 200, 400 dealers marching down the boardwalk, what are you going to do, fire all of them?”
Working in a sea of smoke
Danay has had several horror stories of smoke experiences while working as a dealer, and most of them have been bachelor parties. It took about seven years for Danay to notice his health suffer from inhaling smoke all day long.
“I really started to notice my asthma worsening. Some days, my voice would be very weak and I wouldn’t speak much.”
Danay had foot surgery in 2011 and was out of work for three months. He saw his breathing improve while he was away from the smoke-filled casino.
“Then I came back and I was coughing and just not breathing well.”
Since working in the non-smoking section at Live! Casino Philadelphia, Danay is having a better work experience but is still frustrated when he sees the sea of smoke, even from a distance.
“Casinos like to brag about their air ventilation systems. You smell an awful stench from the non-smoking section. Then you look around to find the person who’s smoking, but they’re 30 feet away in the smoking section puffing away. However, you’d rather they be 30 feet away than sitting right in front of you. It’s much better to not be at ground zero.”
Smoking vs. nonsmoking casino revenue
There have been studies done over the years that claimed prohibiting smoking would be a detriment to casinos’ bottom line.
In Pennsylvania, there is now data to suggest casinos are doing just fine without smoking.
Despite the smoking ban in place for almost a year, Parx remains the top casino in the state for land-based revenue.
- March 2022 table game revenue: $19.6 million
- March 2022 slot revenue: $35.9 million
Though Mount Airy Casino isn’t one of the top-performing casinos in the state, numbers from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board say the casino has not taken a hit.
- March 2022 table game revenue: $3.5 million
- March 2022 slot revenue: $11.1 million
“Parx is obviously the big one,” said Moyer since Parx has been the top land-based casino for revenue for years. “For both of those properties, we have a body of work now of about six to eight months where their in-person revenue has not dropped off. That is really a tell-tale sign of how people are thinking these days.”
Lead image Wayne Parry/AP