Indoor Smoking Extinguished Temporarily at Pennsylvania Casinos

Posted on July 8, 2020

Pennsylvania’s casinos are going smokefree. Temporarily.

Smoking at casinos is yet another coronavirus-caused cutback.

It comes as a result of of last week’s mandate from the Pennsylvania Department of Health expanding on the business safety order requiring masks to be worn in all public places in addition to inside of businesses.

Can’t pull down the mask to smoke at casinos

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Director of Communication Doug Harbach confirmed to PlayPennsylvania that smoking was extinguished for now at PA casinos.

PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole reached out to all of the state’s casinos about implementing the temporary ban. O’Toole determined that in the PGCB protocols, casinos must comply with guidelines from the PA Department of Health which issued an updated order mandating masks in public. There is no exception in the order that permits a person to pull down a mask to smoke.

O’Toole informed casinos that he interpreted the Health Department’s order that there be no smoking inside public facilities. If the facilities have an outside location with adequate distancing, the opportunity for patrons to smoke in an outside/alternative location could be offered.

Prior to the updated order, Pennsylvania law allows 50% of space at casinos to permit smoking.

Some casinos already said no smoking

Prior to the PGCB temporary ban, some casinos already cleared the air on smoking.

In Wind Creek Casino‘s updated health and safety protocols, it lists new smoking restrictions:

“Smoking will not be allowed on the casino floor, public spaces or public bathroom areas. The ONLY place it will be allowed is in designated smoking areas provided at each property.”

Parx Casino temporarily suspended indoor smoking on July 2.

No smoking, drinking or eating at Atlantic City Casinos

On July 2, before Fourth of July visitors headed to Atlantic City, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced there would be no indoor dining, drinking or smoking at Atlantic City casinos.

The first casinos started to reopen in Pennsylvania on June 9, whereas NJ began to welcome back guests on July 2 in Atlantic City. Casinos in PA are open at 50% capacity. In New Jersey, they are open at 25%.

Of Pennsylvania’s twelve brick-and-mortar casinos, eleven reopened. However, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh closed again last week due to an uptick in cases in Allegheny County. Rivers Casino Philadelphia has yet to announce a return date.

In Atlantic City, the Borgata, the highestrevenue generating property, decided to delay its reopening.

Smoking a target of some PA politicos

Right before coronavirus became a worldwide pandemic, PA Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) referred a bill to the Health Committee on Feb. 24. The Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008 prohibits smoking in public places except for casinos, drinking establishments, cigar bars, and private clubs. Frankel’s House Bill 2298 seeks to remove the exceptions.

Thirteen additional co-sponsor signatures are on the bill. The next steps for HB 2298 include debate and discussion in the House Health Committee.

The push for amending the Clean Indoor Air Act isn’t new. In 2017, Rep. Matthew Baker introduced a bill to the House. It didn’t go anywhere. In 2019, Sen. Dan Laughlin followed suit.

Perhaps coronavirus could do what no politician could – permanently evict smoking from the gaming floor.

COVID-19 and smoking

Can coronavirus spread through second-hand smoke?

Dr. Mallika Marshall answered this question for CBS in Boston. She said:

“The virus doesn’t necessarily hitch a ride on smoke, but whenever someone smokes or vapes, they’re breathing out respiratory droplets. So if you’re near someone who is smoking and you can smell the smoke, and that person is sick with COVID-19, you’re at risk of getting sick yourself. Not to mention, long-term secondhand smoke exposure can damage the lungs and make you more susceptible to coronavirus complications.”

Casino workers most exposed

Casino and hospitality workers are the most exposed to secondhand smoke. However, it’s a hazard for everyone in a building that allows smoking according to the educational nonprofit organization The American Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) Foundation. The ANR says now is the “perfect time” to go smokefree.

“In addition to the deep cleaning to disinfect against germs and viruses, consider the tobacco smoke residue, including gases, toxins, carcinogens, and particulates, left in the air, on walls and surfaces, and in carpets and draperies.”

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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