For years, real-life casino experience has been associated not only with table games and gambling machines but also with the gambling venue patrons being able to smoke on the premises. In fact, US states and casino venues around them have permitted smoking on gambling premises for years, with the local gambling industry circumventing a ban that has made smoking illegal on airplanes and various indoor places in the 2000s.
However, the last few years have seen some changes in the rationalization behind the smoking ban exemption, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has highlighted how important the protection of casino patrons’ and workers’ safety and health is. Still, although there has been a clear change in the gambling industry’s priorities, not everyone involved agrees that smoking should be banned in casinos, with some opponents of the move citing issues such as lower revenues as a result of losing customers.
According to data provided by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, so far, smoking has been banned in 20 states across the country, including in Maryland, Delaware, Ohio and New York. The state of Pennsylvania, however, has put little effort to make sure that casino patrons are no longer able to smoke on gambling premises.
Two facilities in Pennsylvania – Mount Airy Casino Resort and Parx Casino – have remained smoke-free following the state Legislature’s decision to strike off a temporary suspension on smoking that was imposed during the coronavirus pandemic. Once the smoking ban was lifted in June 2021, the other 14 licensed casino venues in the state made tobacco-friendly spaces and casually offered ashtrays to their patrons.
US Statewide Anti-Smoke Effort Started in 2008
The statewide motion to ban smoking at US casinos started back in 2008, after the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation established the Breathe Easy with Smokefree Casinos organization. Cynthia Hallett, who is the President and CEO of the foundations, has explained that the main goal of the campaigners is to make all casinos in the country smoke-free in order to limit the exposure of both casino patrons and employees to secondhand smoke. Since then, local Legislatures have been making efforts to limit exposure to secondhand smoke in casinos across the county.
When it comes to the state of Pennsylvania, local casinos seem to be facing pressure to implement some changes in their regulations of smoking, with most of them following official guidelines issued by state Legislators.
The spokesman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has explained that the Clean Indoor Air Act of the state currently provides casinos with the chance to allow smoking on up to 50% of their casino floors. Under the provisions of the act, smoking is not permitted in areas such as entertainment venues, meeting areas, lobbies, clubs and restaurants.
Although the industry has felt much pressure to implement a stricter smoking ban, officials of the Penn National-owned Hollywood Casino at the Meadows explained that they sought to accommodate the needs of both their non-smoking and smoking customers as members of the hospitality industry. In their statement, Hollywood Casinos’ officials shared that the most important thing for operators was to meet their customers’ needs, and sometimes keeping the good balance between complying with the state’s gambling regulations and what their customers wanted was not so easy.
In 2021, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced two bills aimed at limiting smoking to no more than 25% of casinos’ gambling floors. The first measure, called House Bill 211, was rolled out by state Representative Tony DeLuca, while the second one, called Senate Bill 124, was introduced by state Senator Wayne Fontana. Both legislative measures were referred to certain committees within the Pennsylvania Legislature.