Smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos has been a controversy over the last several years. Those days could be winding down after Allegheny County Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel rolled out the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act.
The bill would effectively end smoking in PA casinos and other facilities that came under the exemption of the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008.
Most casino patrons got a reprieve from smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the state and certain counties also had mask mandates. After those were lifted, most casinos went back to indoor smoking.
Rep. Frankel’s bill attempts to ban smoking in Pennsylvania casinos
The Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act, otherwise known as House Bill 1657, will close the loopholes the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008 had included in its bill. In addition to affecting Pennsylvania casinos, the other venues include:
- Private clubs
- Home day care centers
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) bars
- Bars that do not serve food (or 15% of sales or fewer is from food)
The PA Coalition, made up of health experts and advocates from the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement:
“We thank Representative Frankel for his tireless commitment to ending indoor smoking in public places and protecting workers from being exposed to the life-threatening dangers of secondhand smoke. The data shows that casinos without indoor smoking not only protect health, they also perform better because they appeal to the vast majority of potential guests who prefer a smoke-free environment. State lawmakers across the country are considering similar legislation to close the casino smoking loophole and we encourage the Keystone State to swiftly pass HB 1657. No one should be forced to choose between their health and their paycheck.”
Next steps for Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act
PlayPennsylvania spoke with Rep. Frankel in June, prior to the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act being formally introduced.
Here are the necessary steps Frankel laid out:
- Circulate a piece of proposed legislation among colleagues and ask to co-sponsor
- Introduce bill and Speaker of House refers it to committee
- Committee chairman decides to hold bill or run it through committee
- Sent to House floor with affirmative vote
- Pass it on the House floor
- Send to Senate to go through above steps
- Send to Senate floor
Since the bill has been formally introduced, the first two steps have been completed.
Frankel also said in June that hearings are expected to take place this fall involving casino employees and executives, along with other legislators. There is much more support from casino employees, according to Frankel, who have not been as reluctant as before to speak up.
Frankel has confidence that this will pass through legislation this year, as opposed to March 2022’s bill.
“When you make the argument to my colleagues that people shouldn’t have to choose a good-paying casino job with benefits while jeopardizing their own health, that resonates with folks.”
Only two Pennsylvania casino locations remain smoke-free
Both of the Parx Casino facilities, in Bensalem and Shippensburg, are still smoke-free.
Every casino in the state had shut down in March 2020. When they opened up later in the summer, all of them banned smoking due to the mask mandates in effect.
As mask rules began to be lifted in PA counties, casinos slowly started bringing back smoking to 50% of the gaming floor.
Parx is the only establishment that opted not to bring back smoking. It has not hindered the casino’s bottomline, as Parx recorded the highest slot revenue ($389.9 million) during the FY 2022/2023 by far. To boot, Parx was named one of the world’s most profitable casinos earlier this year.
During Parx Shippensburg’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in February, Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oppenheimer, told PlayPennsylvania:
“We’ve seen two things from it. No. 1, it has not hurt us business and revenue wise at all and No. 2, our employees are very, very happy to not be working in an environment with secondhand smoke all the time.”
If and when smoking is banned in Pennsylvania casinos, Parx has created a blueprint to follow.