The smoking debate inside Pennsylvania casinos is starting to gain some traction. Allegheny County Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel is holding a vote at the meeting on Nov. 15 to move House Bill 1657 forward. The bill, also known as the Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act, would effectively end smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos.
Frankel spoke to PlayPennsylvania earlier this week and explained how the upcoming meeting works and what’s to come should the bill move forward.
Health Committee to hold vote to ban smoking inside PA casinos
House Bill 1657 is challenging the loopholes that were instituted in the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008. With the act, indoor smoking had been eliminated with the exception of the following establishments:
- Pennsylvania casinos
- Private clubs
- Home daycare centers
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) bars
- Bars that do not serve food (or 15% of sales or fewer is from food)
Frankel, who is also the majority chair of the health committee, is holding a meeting to push the bill through the committee and onto the House floor. There will be 25 total people voting at the meeting, 14 of which are Democrats and the rest Republicans.
Frankel said that the bill will be up for consideration to all 25 in attendance. Each member gets a chance to offer amendments to the bill, which get voted on one at a time. The bill is then up for consideration again with the amendments placed in. A simple majority moves the bill forward.
“I’m totally certain the bill will come out of committee with an affirmative vote and I’m pretty certain that we will have bipartisan support,” Frankel told PlayPennsylvania. “It may not be unanimous, but we will have bipartisan support.”
Frankel added that he’s never brought a bill forward that’s been defeated at the committee vote.
“I don’t bring a bill to the committee without knowing if it’s going to pass.”
How eliminating smoking will help employees in the Pennsylvania casino industry
Casinos in Pennsylvania had one of their best years ever in FY 2022/2023. Facilities reported $2.45 billion in slot revenue, which is the highest total since 2011/2012, and $974 million in table games revenue, the second-highest total of all time.
There are only two establishments in the Keystone State that are completely smoke-free. Both of Parx’s venues, in Bensalem and Shippensburg, have not reinstated smoking since the pandemic.
Parx has shown that smoking is not a necessity to be successful in the casino industry. Parx Bensalem finished first in slot revenue, generating $389.9 million in FY earnings, and second in table games, producing $202.1 million. It was the top-grossing casino during that span.
During Parx’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new venue in Shippensburg, Chief Marketing Officer, Marc Oppenheimer, noticed a difference.
“Our employee engagement surveys and employee morale has gone way up and frankly, we’re starting to see our healthcare cost going down a little bit,” Oppenheimer told PlayPennsylvania in February.
Frankel also mentioned that eliminating smoking is going to help the casino workforce, along with patrons who don’t smoke. Those who want to smoke have the option, Frankel said, of utilizing PA casinos online from home instead.
“People who patronize these facilities are looking for a nice experience and not have to deal with the annoyance of an environment that can potentially harm their health,” Frankel explained.
Next steps for Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act
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 three steps have already been completed. The meeting next week is considered the fourth step of the process.
While it’s difficult to put a timetable on such processes, Frankel is hopeful his bill lands on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk by March or April. Shapiro signing it into action would be the last step.
“Everything I know about Josh Shapiro, he will be supportive,” Frankel told PlayPennsylvania in June.