Pennsylvania Casino Smoking Ban Bill Passes Through House Committee

Written By Corey Sharp on November 15, 2023 - Last Updated on November 17, 2023
Photo of a woman smoking inside of a casino for a story about the House Health Committee passing a bill today that would eliminate indoor smoking at Pennsylvania casinos.

The Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act is one step closer to prohibiting guests from smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos. Allegheny County Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel and his colleagues voted to pass the act out of the Health Committee Wednesday morning.

While there are still many steps remaining, eliminating smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos is becoming a reality.

Affirmative vote moves PA casino smoking ban bill out of committee

Otherwise known as House Bill 1657, the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act aims to close loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008 that allowed smoking in certain indoor venues, including Pennsylvania casinos.

During a Health Committee meeting earlier today, Rep. Frankel announced that the bill passed thanks to a 13-11 vote. Frankel, who was “totally certain” the bill would pass, said in a statement:

“We are the Health Committee – it’s in the name. We cannot refuse to act while thousands of Pennsylvanians are forced to choose between an absolutely undebatable health hazard and their ability to put food on the table.”

According to the press release, the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act would:

  • Eliminate loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act that leave workers exposed to cancerous secondhand smoke
  • Expand the definition of smoking to add e-cigarettes to combat the rise in vaping-related illnesses
  • Give all localities the ability to enact smoke-free ordinances that are more protective than state law

Parx Casino’s facilities in Bensalem and Shippensburg are the only Pennsylvania casinos to have banned smoking. Frankel cited Bensalem’s location as the top-grossing casino in the state as further evidence to eliminate smoking:

“It’s preposterous to argue that smoking bans are bad for business when Pennsylvania’s most successful casino is voluntarily smoke-free,” Frankel added.

The bill has now been sent to the House floor, where another vote must take place for it to pass further.

CEASE PA members are pleased with voting result

Casino workers and members of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) have been instrumental in putting pressure on facilities and legislators to ban indoor smoking. Rep. Frankel told PlayPennsylvania back in June that he’s noticed employees speaking up:

“Casino workers seem to be much more engaged. There had seemed to be a reluctance in the past because they were concerned about keeping their jobs if they stood up and became advocates.”

All of CEASE’s efforts are paying off to this point. Jen Rubolino, a table games dealer at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and co-leader of CEASE PA, said in a statement emailed to PlayPennsylvania:

“We thank Rep. Frankel and members of the House Health Committee for voting to pass legislation that will immediately improve our workplace conditions and fully protect thousands of frontline casino workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Today is a great day in our fight for a healthier workplace and we won’t stop fighting for this legislation until we can finally breathe smoke-free air at work. We urge lawmakers to pass this bill when it comes to the House floor because no one should be forced to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

Rubolino told PlayPennsylvania on Wednesday that she attended the voting meeting. She realized that many members of the committee who were not in favor of the bill are Republican.

The fact that there was not a ton of bipartisan support means that Rubolino has a lot more work to do. She intends to partner with Americans For Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) to get as much bipartisan support before the next vote on the House floor.

However, it’ll be worth it to Rubolino. She loves her job at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, but there’s an ounce of dread during her commute to work. Eliminating smoking would enhance her life, including everybody else’s. She said:

“I wouldn’t have to worry about my clothes smelling or smoke getting into my lungs. I wouldn’t have to wash my hair as much, either. We would have happier customers and it would be a totally different environment. It would bring in fresh customers who wouldn’t step foot into a casino because of asthma, lung or heart problems.”

Next steps to pass Pennsylvania casino smoking ban bill

Frankel originally introduced the bill in September and laid out the following steps needed to officially ban smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos:

  • 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
  • Send to House floor with affirmative vote
  • Pass it on the House floor
  • Send to Senate to go through above steps
  • Send to Senate floor

The first four steps have now been completed. The bill needs to pass on the House floor under the same protocol.

Frankel mentioned to PlayPennsylvania last week that if everything goes according to plan, he hopes the bill lands on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk by March or April. He expects Shapiro to be supportive.

Photo by Wayne Parry / AP
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Corey Sharp

Corey Sharp is the Lead Writer at PlayPennsylvania bringing you comprehensive coverage of sports betting and gambling in Pennsylvania. Corey is a 4-for-4 Philly sports fan and previously worked as a writer and editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer and NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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