Smoking Is Back at Some Pennsylvania Casinos; Employees and Customers Weigh In on Fiery Issue

Posted By Katie Kohler on September 13, 2021

When the topic of smoking at casinos comes up, there is sure to be a fiery discussion. Pennsylvania lifted its universal masking order on June 28 and most Pennsylvania casinos allowed smoking to return to the floor. However, there was one notable holdout. Parx, the highest grossing casino in the state, has not allowed smoking to return indoors yet.

Pennsylvania casinos closed in March 2020 and most reopened in June 2020. It translated to about a year of smokefree indoor environments for employees and visitors.

Smoking is at an all-time low. The CDC reports that smoking has declined from 20.9% of the population in 2005 to 14%.

PlayPennsylvania surveyed the current landscape of this burning topic.

Smoking at casinos in Pennsylvania

The following casinos in PA now allow smoking indoors.
(As of Sept. 13)

  • Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
  • Lady Luck Nemacolin
  • Wind Creek Casino
  • Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia
  • The Meadows
  • Valley Forge Casino
  • Presque Isle Downs
  • Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
  • Live! Casino Pittsburgh
  • Hollywood Casino York

Casinos in Pennsylvania that currently do not allow smoking indoors
(Smoking is allowed in designated outdoor spaces)

  • Parx Casino
  • Mount Airy Casino
  • Rivers Casino Philadelphia
  • Live! Casino Philadelphia

Philadelphia officials announced a new mask mandate on August 12. The city requires masks be worn inside businesses unless the business requires proof of vaccination, according to health officials. Two casinos in Philadelphia – Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Live! Casino Philadelphia – are subject to the city’s rules.

What casino employees say about smoking

Two employees at Pennsylvania casinos spoke to PlayPennsylvania about their thoughts on indoor smoking. Both wanted to remain anonymous.

An employee at Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia said:

“How, in 2021, do we have a loophole in PA law that allows a tiny fraction of the workforce to be exposed to smoke? Do the people making these decisions (politicians, lobby groups, Gaming Control Board, etc.) allow smoking in their offices? Of course not. Even the upper management of the properties don’t have to deal with it like most employees do. It’s honestly an absolute disgrace. The greed of the casino industry is unlike any other industry. Willing to put the health of their employees and customers at risk so those slot machines keep rolling nonstop.

“I currently still wear a mask even though I am vaccinated, just for the sheer fact that there is smoking. And to have certain sections smoking and non smoking is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. Does management think there is a magical wall that keeps smoke out of non smoking areas? It drifts right into areas where non-smokers play. I’ve been fighting this for 12 years since I started in the industry. It’s awful that smoking is still here.”

A Rivers Casino Philadelphia employee also commented

“Right now, I want to wear a mask again because of CDC recommendations. But it is next to impossible to wear a mask in a smoking environment because the smoke sits in your mask. The casinos had the perfect opportunity to do the right thing for their employees and this just proves how much the casinos do not care about their employees. Many employees have quit and many are trying to overcome this and management can’t understand why employees are leaving. It is a real shame.”

What casino visitors say about smoking

A few casino Facebook groups shared what they thought about smoking on the gaming floor.

  • I think it should be non smoking completely. It was nice not to smell like an ashtray. Look at last year… people still went to the casino even without smoking.
  • No Smoking is a No Brainer.
  • Smoking should be allowed in designated areas
  • I definitely love non-smoking at Mt.Airy. If all PA casinos go back to smoking we would take our money to New York, Delaware, and Maryland where all the casinos are non smoking.
  • No smoking. The casinos are cleaner.
  • I prefer non-smoking…so does my health, clothes and washer and dryer.

Why is smoking allowed at casinos in PA?

There’s a loophole. Pennsylvania lawmakers approved the Clean Indoor Air Act  in 2008. It banned smoking in public indoors. But there are exceptions for casinos, private clubs and cigar bars.

Casinos can allow smoking on up to 50% of the square feet of the gaming floor.

The World Health Organization says:

All forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, which causes more than 1.2 million premature deaths per year and serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Group says casinos should end smoking

President and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Cynthia Hallett has called on Pennsylvania to ban smoking.

Hallett said:

“Indoor smoking is a pre-COVID relic that should not return. Pennsylvania casinos have been thriving while operating smokefree, and the CDC has called smokefree policies enacted over the last 15 months a ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic.

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Director of Advocacy Bronson Frick released the following statement after Philadelphia casinos reinstated a smokefree indoor air policy:

“Philadelphia casino employees are receiving a temporary reprieve from secondhand smoke, but it’s time to put this issue to rest for good by finally closing the casino loophole in state law. Had these casinos simply remained smokefree indoors and turned their attention to permanent outdoor smoking areas, they could have maximized their investment in deep cleaning while also protecting the health of their staff and customers and reducing costly turnover.

“The temporary smokefree policy at Philadelphia casinos highlights the absurdity of casinos in Nevada, Louisiana and other gaming states continuing to permit smoking while a mask mandate is in effect. It makes no sense to allow guests to remove their mask and blow secondhand smoke—along with droplets carrying a potentially life-threatening disease—into shared indoor air. This jeopardizes the health of gaming employees and guests alike, and no credible public health official would approve of such an activity.”

Lead image of Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia by Katie Kohler

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Katie Kohler

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

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