Do Ventilation Systems Really Combat Smoking in Casinos? Experts Weigh In

Written By Corey Sharp on February 9, 2023
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Two Pennsylvania casinos in the latter stages of 2022 decided to bring back smoking. Mount Airy Casino and Rivers Casino Philadelphia banned smoking voluntarily earlier in year, only to bring it back. Mount Airy did so in August and Rivers Casino Philadelphia followed suit in October.

Parx Casino Bensalem and newly opened Parx Casino Shippensburg are the only two casino facilities that do not allow smoking.

Many casinos tout air filtration systems as ways to help combat and protect others from secondhand smoke.

The real question is: Do they work?

PlayPennsylvania also checks in with Rep. Dan Frankel on the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act.

Are PA casinos hiding behind air filtration systems to protect employees?

New York, Delaware and Maryland are all states that border Pennsylvania and/or New Jersey that have banned smoking in casinos.

All casinos in New Jersey, and with the exception of two facilities in Pennsylvania, allow smoking. Up to 25% of the gaming floor is allowed to smoke in New Jersey. Pennsylvania allows smoking on up to 50% of the gaming floor, under the Clean Indoor Air Act.

In Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s decision to bring smoking back, General Manager Justin Moore said:

“Rivers Casino has a state-of-the-art indoor air filtration system to ensure the comfort of all guests and Team Members.”

Nevada, the gambling haven of America, is also another state in which smoking is legal on the gaming floor. Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said its casinos have “invested heavily” in technology that circulates fresh air and removes smoke from casino floors.

“From specialized ventilation and filtration systems to air-handling units located at table games and the bases of gaming devices, the industry continues to utilize the latest innovations for the benefit of employees and guests,” Valentine said in July, according to The Nevada Independent.

The Casino Association of New Jersey has also insinuated that air filtration systems are effective in combating secondhand smoke.

Experts refute air filtration systems as ways to eliminate smoke

As casinos continue to stand behind air filtration systems as ways to protect employees, experts have spoken out to debunk that theory.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have sent a memo to Valentine and another to the Casino Association of New Jersey informing them that air filtration systems are not effective. ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is a global society of 50,000 members advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment.

Both memos shared similar messages, clearly stating:

“If smoking is allowed throughout a space or a collection of spaces served by a single air handler, with no effort to isolate or separate the smokers and nonsmokers, there is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) to an acceptable level. This situation includes unrestricted smoking in homes, dormitories, casinos, bingo parlors, small workplaces and open plan office spaces.”

In another statement, ASHRAE said:

“ASHRAE holds the position that the only means of avoiding health effects and eliminating indoor ETS exposure is to ban all smoking activity inside and near buildings.”

The ASHRAE went on to make these conclusions:

  • Casinos and air ventilation systems can reduce only odor and discomfort. It cannot eliminate exposure when smoking is allowed inside or near a building.
  • Even when all practical means of separation and isolation of smoking areas are employed, adverse health effects from exposure in non-smoking spaces in the same building cannot be eliminated.
  • Neither dilution ventilation, air distribution (e.g., “air curtains”) nor air cleaning should be relied upon to control exposure to secondhand smoke.

What it’s like to work in a PA casino that allows smoking

Michael Danay has been a dealer for 20 years. He’s spent time in Atlantic City casinos and currently works at Live! Casino Philadelphia.

As many casinos tout their air filtration systems to combat secondhand smoke, it does not make Danay feel any better.

“I can’t speak for Rivers since I haven’t been in that building in several years, but state-of-the-art air filtration systems do not work in casinos,” Danay told PlayPennsylvania. “They’ll give blanket statements from their smoke-free offices saying so. But it’s just to appease the public that they care. Employees are not fooled.”

Danay said that casinos he’s worked for “smell like an ashtray” during a busy shift.

In previous casinos Danay has worked for, they have not always done the best job in separating smoking from non-smoking sections. For example, a non-smoking table was within a few feet of the smoking section.

Danay said that Live! Casino Philadelphia has put the smoking sections in the corner of the casino, which is marginally better, but does not police smoking well enough.

“In my current casino the most frustrating thing is that smoking is not enforced at all,” Danay said. “Some people might say something, but people basically just smoke wherever they please with little to no pushback. When I see people smoking in non-smoking sections I always say something. One time I said something and the guy said, ‘I’ve been smoking here all day and nobody said anything.’ There are several visible no smoking signs.”

Danay suffers from asthma, which has worsened over the years, along with other colleagues of his.

Rep. Dan Frankel 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 bill did not pass last year.

Frankel told PlayPennsylvania he’s expecting to be the majority chairman of the health committee after special elections for key committee positions are complete. Once Frankel reassembles his members, he’s expecting bipartisan support on the bill.

There is a detailed process the bill must go through that includes public hearings with casinos employees, the bill going through the Senate and negotiating any amendments.

“An employee should not be in a position to choose between their livelihood and their health,” Frankel said. “Casinos provide good paying jobs with benefits and at the same time they create an environment where they jeopardize the health of their employees as well. We shouldn’t be in a position of choosing one or the other.”

Right now, Frankel reintroduced the bill and is looking for co-sponsorship.

Frankel said he has confidence the bill will pass by the end of 2023. He’s also comparing the situation to those of restaurants banning smoking.

“Restaurants that have been forced to go smoke-free, which is most of them if not all, agree that they do much better business,” Frankel said. “Their employees are happier and healthier and so are their patrons. I think that model proves that casinos can and should emulate that behavior of going smoke-free.”

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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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