Vegas News

Is a ban on smoking in Nevada casinos too hot to discuss?

The Global Gaming Expo is a place where casino executives annually gather to debate industry issues.

But a small group of casino dealers say their topic was too hot to discuss during the world’s largest gathering of casino industry professionals last week.

Representatives of recently formed Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects, or CEASE, had no booth on the trade show floor but asked reporters to meet them in one of the suites at Palazzo during G2E.

Their message: The bid to rid casino floors of smoking is a movement, not a moment, and it’s growing outside its New Jersey stronghold to other states including Nevada. A CEASE chapter was formed in Rhode Island. Another is getting started in Pennsylvania. And the group made its way to four Las Vegas casinos to gather support for a Nevada chapter.

But the concern is that casino workers may be too intimidated to make a stink about supporting a smoking ban.

Efforts to ban smoking in Nevada casinos over the years have failed, but the small group of CEASE members say they will keep trying.

“I’ve been in the casino industry for over 26 years and, frankly, I’m sick and tired of having people blowing poisonous secondhand smoke directly into my face on a daily basis,” said Pete Naccarelli, an Atlantic City table games dealer and co-founder of CEASE in New Jersey.

Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said 21 states have laws that ban smoking inside casinos and 62.5 percent of the U.S. population is protected by local or statewide smoke-free workplace restaurant or bar laws.

Supporters of smoking bans may have missed a golden opportunity during the coronavirus pandemic when several states temporarily banned smoking to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But some states, including New Jersey, lifted the ban when COVID cases waned. While New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has vowed to sign casino smoking-ban legislation if it reaches his desk, lawmakers have struggled to bring it to a legislative vote. It’s also stuck in Rhode Island.

Bipartisan issue

CEASE members say the matter is a bipartisan health care issue that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to embrace in Nevada.

The reason antismoking legislation seems to go nowhere in Nevada is that the strong casino lobby keeps any policy change at bay, they said. Casinos fear a smoking ban could result in a reduction in gross gaming revenue.

Gaming consultant Andrew Klebanow’s C3 Gaming issued a report in June saying his research finds no connection between a smoking ban and revenue loss.

“Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue,” the report says. “In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.

“Public policy makers and casino operators must also realize that when they state that they care about the health and safety of their customers, employees and their communities while continuing to allow indoor smoking, they are at the very least being disingenuous. And they must also recognize that their customers, employees and the greater public know it.”

The Nevada Resort Association notes that resorts are in full compliance with the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act.

“Where allowed by law on the gaming floor, our members cater to the diversity of our guests’ preferences by offering both non-smoking and smoking environments giving guests choices when they visit,” the NRA said in an emailed statement. “Our members continually evaluate consumer demand to inform their business practices.”

The organization also said the resort industry places a high priority on air quality, investing heavily in advanced ventilation and filtration systems to maximize the exchange and circulation of fresh air and diminish smoke and odors.

CEASE is largely unmoved by that, noting the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers say filtration systems block odors and maintain comfort but don’t remove carcinogens from the air.

CEASE members stayed at Park MGM, a Strip resort that bans smoking. MGM Resorts International doesn’t provide gaming revenue by property so it’s impossible to know what the ban has done to its bottom line. But the CEASE contingent said the casino floor was packed at midweek.

“We’ve got a lot of information and trends, yet it feels like G2E is ignoring this topic,” Hallett said.

She said a discussion on the topic was scheduled at September’s East Coast Gaming Congress but was canceled when a representative of the Casino Association of New Jersey backed out of the debate.

It begs the question: Is a ban on smoking in casinos too hot to talk about?

Contact Richard N. Velotta at [email protected] or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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