Despite passing the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008, Pennsylvania casinos fall under a loophole where smoking is permitted indoors. The movement to close the loophole and ban smoking has picked up momentum.
As a native of Philadelphia, I have been to Parx Casino Bensalem, the only establishment in the state to voluntarily ban smoking, several times. Earlier this week, I traveled to Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Live! Casino Philadelphia to observe the gaming experience from a casino that allows smoking.
Observations from Pennsylvania casinos that allow smoking
I visited Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Live! Casino Philadelphia on a rainy Thursday morning. Coming from Northeast Philadelphia, I trekked down I-95 and stopped at Rivers Casino Philadelphia first.
The casino seemed less busy compared to Live! Casino Philadelphia. I entered through doors that led to the center of the casino, which is a non-smoking area. The smell wasn’t too bad at all when I walked in. However, as I got closer to the smoking section, the smell of smoke got stronger and stronger.
I spotted four people smoking in the 30 minutes I spent at Rivers Casino Philadelphia. The casino’s smoking area is not necessarily one section. There could be a row of games that are labeled as smoking, another that is non-smoking, and another that is smoking. So the area that is non-smoking is in the crossfire of the smell from the smoking section.
Live! Casino Philadelphia’s smoking area, on the other hand, is actually one pocket of the facility. When I stepped as far away as possible from the smoking section, the smoke smell was just about nonexistent. The smell was also very, very faint when entering the casino from the 10th Street entrance.
The closer I got to the smoking section, the worse the smell got. I spotted three people smoking in my 30 minutes inside the casino.
My experiences at non-smoking Parx Casino Bensalem
There had been a time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when all Pennsylvania casinos banned smoking because of mask mandates. Casinos gradually brought back smoking as mandates loosened over the years. Rivers Casino Philadelphia reinstated smoking in October of last year.
Parx Casino Bensalem is the one facility that voluntarily banned smoking, even after the state lifted mask mandates. Parx opened another facility earlier this year, which is also non-smoking.
I’m not much of a slots or table games player, but I do love watching a game from the sportsbook. Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s sportsbook is in the vicinity of the smoking section, and the smell is easily detectable. Live! Casino Philadelphia’s sportsbook is further away and the smell is at least tolerable.
With Parx Casino Bensalem, the thought or smell of smoke never crosses my mind.
What Pennsylvania casino-goers have to say about smoking
Allegheny County Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel introduced the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act to ban smoking inside casinos. The bill is picking up steam after it passed through the House Committee last month.
As the bill continues to run through the legislative process, players are still able to smoke in designated areas of the casinos, except for the Parx locations.
One female player at Rivers Casino Philadelphia, who declined to share her name, said that the smoke does not bother her. I approached another female player, also declining to share her name, who is a smoker. She was not smoking at the time I approached.
She said she would be upset if smoking was banned inside casinos. Her reasoning:
“I don’t see why they shouldn’t let us smoke,” she told me. “They are giving out drinks and then we sit here losing our money. They should let us smoke.”
Mike from Delran, New Jersey, who was gaming at Live! Casino Philadelphia, shared similar sentiments. He said:
“It would suck (if smoking got banned),” he said. “That’s what the world is going toward. I’m surprised I can still smoke here anyway.”
The potential smoke ban would not impact Mike’s gaming habits. He said he “wouldn’t hate” smoking outside and still gambling.
Steve from West Philadelphia, also at Live! Casino Philadelphia, sang a different tune.
“They should ban it,” he told me. “I don’t smoke and I don’t want to catch cancer.”
Steve said he visits Live! Casino Philadelphia two or three times a week. His visits per week would increase if the state banned casino smoking.