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No Butts About It, PA Casino Smoking Ban In The House

no smoking sign on table

A new bill in the Pennsylvania House could mean the end of smoking in the state’s 12 casinos. The bill proposes to remove most of the exemptions on the existing Clean Indoor Air act. The end result would be no more smoking in bars and casinos.

Casino smoking ban drawing mixed reviews

The population of smokers in the United States is on the decline. Nonetheless, the bill has its fair share of critics. The primary criticism is that it unnecessarily involves the government in operations of a private business. A similar measure was introduced in 2015, but failed to pass through the legislature.

Rep. Eli Evankovich, who serves of the House Health Committee, is one of the more vocal opponents. “These types of bans on local businesses disrupt our free market system,” he told the local CBS affiliate. “We’re trampling on peoples’ rights whenever we do that.”

Additionally, the bill leaves room for local governments within Pennsylvania to enact even more stringent smoking laws on private businesses.

TribLive spoke with several bar owners and casino patrons who opposed the law, but could not get any casino representatives to go on the record about the issue. Nonetheless, supporters believe casinos will push back against the measure.

Some casinos, like Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, voluntarily offer smoking and non-smoking areas in the casino, but none are completely smoke-free.

Elsewhere, casino smoking bans did receive blowback from the gaming companies. Just last year, Harrah’s Philadelphia owner Caesars Entertainment gave a presentation in Louisiana where the company discussed how the New Orleans smoking ban directly resulted in casino revenue decline.

Bill proponents include health advocacy groups, casino labor unions

The bill has the support of over 100 health advocacy groups. Additionally, many labor organizations back the measure. Many casino labor unions in Las Vegas, Nevada rally for smoke-free casinos. The unions are concerned about the dangers secondhand smoke pose to employees. In the past, casino employees even sued some casinos over cancer deaths. None of these cases succeeded in court as of yet.

Rep. Matthew Baker introduced the bill to the House earlier this month. So far, it has not gone anywhere. Given the past history of similar bills, the lack of progress on the issue is not surprising. Moreover, with Pennsylvania casino revenues struggling, any law which could further compromise the casinos’ earning potential will likely struggle to gain traction.

A law allowing casinos to pay for a 24-hour liquor license passed last year, but none of the casinos opted to pay the million-dollar fee for the license.

There has not been any discussion about any sort of exemption licenses for smoking in casinos, but given the desperate need for tax dollars in Pennsylvania, it is an idea that certainly would not be surprising if it ends up on the table at some point.

About

Jessica Welman is the managing editor of PlayPennsylvania. A longtime poker media presence, Jess has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com.