Smoking at casinos in Pennsylvania and beyond remains a fiery issue with operators, casino workers and non-smoking advocates. It’s such a hot topic that a panel at East Coast Gaming Congress got cancelled.
ECGC is being held on Sept. 22 and 23 at Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City. Organizers planned to discuss the topic of smoking at casinos on panel, “Will casino revenues go up in smoke if you go smoke-free” that included:
- Mark Giannantonio, Resorts Casino President and now head of the Atlantic City casinos’ trade association. Giannantonio strongly opposes a smoking ban.
- Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing which owns Parx Casino. Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, is now voluntarily smoke-free.
- Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.
Smoking panel cancelled at gambling conference
When asked why the panel was cancelled, Hallet said:
“They don’t want to talk about it. No one wants to be on the record.”
Hallet spoke to Play Pennsylvania at ECGC about some of the key points she planned to discuss. She pointed to Hard Rock Casino employees “Clean Team” going around the property wiping down surfaces. Yet they still have indoor air pollution by allowing smoking .Hallet also added that only about 12% of the US population smokes.
“Times have changed. The public’s attitudes have changed. If you build a smoke-free casino people will come to play. That generation (that smokes) is aging out. If you want to bring in the younger players, you not only have to offer great amenities, you have to be smoke free. They like the excitement.”
Giannantonio spoke directly to the media last week. He said:
“The Casino Association of New Jersey has been very transparent in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City,” he said. “We believe that more time is needed to devise and implement a solution that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs and benefits to seniors.”
The East Coast Gaming Congress is not the only gathering of the gambling industry that will be missing a discussion on the issue of smoking. The Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas (Oct 10-13) will not have a panel discussing smoking at casinos. Hallett said that the Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation offered to be on a panel or sponsor a panel.
Casino workers protest smoking
On a rainy Thursday afternoon, casino workers stood under a walkway outside of Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City where ECGC was being held.
Lamont White, a dealer at Borgata and co-leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) spoke about the cancellation of the panel:
“They couldn’t find one member in all of the casinos to say why it’s a good idea for us to suck secondhand smoke. What would they say? We understand, we feel bad about the heart attacks, strokes, cancer but we love money. And money is more important than any casino workers’ life.”
The workers also demanded the New Jersey state Legislature move forward on a bill to ban casino smoking that has the support of over half of NJ lawmakers and Governor Phil Murphy.
“I am begging because our lives are at stake,” said White. “We all feel like we are at a game of Russian roulette with the casinos. They got their finger on the trigger and one day it’s gonna be one of our turns. I’m asking New Jersey to take your finger off the trigger and get us out of the smoke.”
Workers then walked down the Atlantic City boardwalk in a steady rain chanting “AC smoke-free.”
Looks like smoking permanently gone from Parx
Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, which owns Pennsylvania’s smoke-free Parx Casino, spoke at a different panel on Thursday afternoon and the topic of smoking was in the air.
“So far so good. It’s been over two years. Our employees love it and have been very grateful for it. If you look at our market share numbers they have held up just fine and business does well. We survey our customers and there are as many customers that say they like smoking as those that don’t. But we try to make it easy for who do prefer to smoke.”
When asked if getting rid of smoking at the casino was an experiment or permanent, Hausler answered:
“Once you are past two years, I don’t see why we would go back. Our customers and team members have gotten used to it.”
Hallett has been working on smoke-free issues for over thirty years and said it’s common that trends usually start with small businesses or cities going smoke-free. Then it’s adopted by others if it is successful. However, in Pennsylvania, the land-based market leader, Parx, took the lead when it came to getting rid of smoking.
“Smokers will go into smoke-free businesses because it is cleaner and smells better. In Pennsylvania, with the Parx experience, they give others the confidence to consider it.”
Casinos in Pennsylvania that do and do not allow smoking
Parx Casino has gone completely smoke-free since Pennsylvania lifted mandatory indoor masking orders. There is an outdoor, covered smoking patio.
Despite new competition and the launch of online casinos, Parx Casino is still the highest grossing casino in Pennsylvania. The casino has maintained a steady market share for slot and table game revenue through the years. Parx has gone completely smoke-free since Pennsylvania lifted mandatory indoor masking orders.
Parx plans to open a mini-casino in Shippensburg in early 2023 which will also be smoke-free.
Rivers Casino Philadelphia has also decided to continue its post-COVID smoking ban. Representatives for Rivers Casino Philadelphia told Play Pennsylvania in a statement:
“When the City of Philadelphia ended its COVID smoking ban, Rivers Casino Philadelphia elected to temporarily continue the ban that had already been in place. An outdoor patio has been designated for smokers, and guests have complied without issue. Rivers Casino Philadelphia continues to monitor feedback.”
Mount Airy Casino first announced it banned smoking in August 2021 via an announcement on their Facebook page. However, the casino reversed course and brought back smoking at the casino in March 2022.
All other casinos in PA allow smoking.
Under Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act, casinos are one of the few places, including private clubs and cigar bars, that allow indoor smoking. Smoking areas can not exceed 50% of square feet of the gaming floor.
Photo of Lamont Hill by Katie Kohler