Another Pennsylvania casino brought back indoor smoking.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia voluntarily banned smoking in April 2022.
In an announcement on Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s Facebook page highlighting new features for 2023, the casino mentioned designated smoking areas are back on the gaming floor.
Mount Airy Casino and Rivers Casino Philadelphia have reversed course on smoking over the last six months. Parx Casino and Parx Shippensburg are the only casinos in PA that are completely smoke-free indoors.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia offers indoor smoking again
Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s Facebook page announced new features for this year, including designated smoking areas. This is referenced as “new” to the gaming floor.
General Manager Justin Moore told PlayPennsylvania that the casino started to allow smoking in October 2022. He provided additional comments:
“In accordance with state guidelines, approximately 50% of the gaming floor is designated for smoking. Smoking is not permitted in other areas of the casino that are not designated for smoking, such as restaurants, The Event Center or table games.”
What was the reason for bringing smoking back?
“This is a final step in our process to return the property to pre-COVID operations.”
Moore also noted the casino “has a state-of-the-art indoor air filtration system to ensure the comfort of all guests and Team Members” and no issues have been reported.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia did not allow smoking when the city was under masking orders, which was almost the entire duration of the pandemic. Philadelphia had some of the strictest masking rules in the country.
Philadelphia decided to lift mask mandates in March 2022, but reinstated them in April, though they only lasted four days. On April 29, Rivers Casino Philadelphia announced the extension of the smoke ban, even though Philadelphia ended the mask mandate:
The casino did not make an announcement on Facebook or Twitter, nor mention the change on its website.
Mount Airy Casino, the latest casino to allow indoor smoking, made announcements on Facebook and its website when smoking came back on the gaming floor.
Smoking in Pennsylvania casinos
Parx Casino is the only current casino in the state that is completely smoke-free indoors. In late April 2022, the three casinos that voluntarily banned smoking were Mount Airy Casino, Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Parx Casino.
Now that two reversed course, Chris Moyer, Founder and President of Moyer Strategies, which represents Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, believes progress has not been stopped.
“We’re still seeing across the country more and more casinos ending indoor smoking. We’re making incredible progress in New Jersey and elsewhere and we’re expanding the worker movement.”
As Parx’s mini-casino in Shippensburg is set to open later in early February, that casino will also be smoke-free indoors.
Under Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking areas cannot exceed 50% of the square footage of the gaming floor.
With that much smoking permitted indoors, the The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), experts on air filtration and ventilation systems, said that “the building and its systems can reduce only odor and discomfort but cannot eliminate exposure when smoking is allowed inside or near a building” in a memo sent to the Nevada Resort Association last August.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s lagging slots and table game revenue
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s slots and table games figures have taken a massive hit.
In the eight full months leading up to the pandemic in fiscal year 2019/2020, Rivers Casino Philadelphia reached at least $14 million in revenue seven times. In February 2020, Rivers Casino Philadelphia hit $15.1 million in slot revenue.
Since reopening fully from July 2020 to November 2020, and from January 2021 on, Rivers Casino Philadelphia has only hit $13 million in slot revenue just once. Rivers Casino Philadelphia typically hovers around $10 million in revenue since July 2020.
Its table games have also been down since pandemic closures. In the FY 2019/2020, Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s table games would be between $10 to $11 million in revenue. In February 2020, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh reported more than $14 million in revenue.
Since reopening, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh only reached $10 million in revenue just twice. In FY 2022/2023, Rivers Casino Philadelphia is averaging $8.03 million in revenue.
Inflation, strict mask policies and additional competition can all be contributing factors for revenue drop-off. Perhaps allowing smoking on the gaming floor is a way to combat declining revenue.
Update on Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act
Allegheny County Democrats Sen. Jay Costa and Rep. Dan Frankel unveiled the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act in March 2022. The goal is to end indoor smoking in PA casinos.
The bill aims to protect casino employees from secondhand smoking:
- Eliminate loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act that leave workers exposed to cancerous secondhand smoke.
- Expand the definition of smoking to include e-cigarettes in order to combat the increase in vaping-related illnesses.
- Give local governments the ability to put into place smoke-free ordinances that are more protective than state law.
Since elections took place last fall, there is a new makeup of politicians looking at the bill.
“We’re optimistic that there will be more support from this legislation,” Moyer said. “We’ll be making the case led by casino workers who have a really important story to tell on this.”
Moyer said they are in the midst of this process right now.
He noted the fight in New Jersey to ban indoor smoking at casinos is further along than PA. All that needs to happen is the Senate President and Assembly Speaker must move the bill forward. Once that happens, it could help the PA fight.
“Once we have success getting bills finalized in New Jersey, that will have a ripple effect,” Moyer said. “It sends a message that this is not how business should be done. You can still attract players and do well with business without having indoor smoking.”