Pennsylvania casinos can allow cigarette smoking on sections of their gaming floors. But efforts in Harrisburg are once again underway to extinguish the gaming exemption from the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act.
Pennsylvania passed its Clean Indoor Air Act in 2008. The law prohibits indoor smoking in public places and workplaces. But the statute provides exemptions for casinos, cigar lounges, private clubs, and watering holes that generate the bulk of their revenue from alcohol sales.
For casinos, Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act allows each licensed facility to designate up to 50% of its gaming floor for cigarette smoking. But as cigarette use continues to decline in the commonwealth — about 14% of adult Pennsylvanians today reporting that they smoke tobacco — some state lawmakers believe it’s time to end the smoking loopholes.
State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) plans to soon reintroduce a statute to prohibit smoking inside Pennsylvania casinos. He tried last year with House Bill 2466, but the measure stalled in the House Health Committee.
Frankel’s legislative district includes Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. The casino allows indoor smoking in designated sections. The casino says it recently upgraded its HVAC system with an “indoor air quality purification system” that eradicates contaminated particles and disinfects the air.
Frankel said in a memorandum to his legislative colleagues that smoking rates have declined since 2008 when the Clean Indoor Air Act was signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell (D).
While the number of smokers has sunk, we’ve also concentrated the health risks of secondhand smoke to a few remaining, unprotected workplaces. Casinos, private clubs, and some drinking establishments expose their workers to untenable health risks by taking advantage of loopholes in our Clean Indoor Air Act,” Frankel wrote.
“Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between their jobs and their health,” he continued.
Frankel pointed to research that found smoke-free environments attract more customers — not fewer. He also cited Pennsylvania casino revenues that fared well even when the state temporarily prohibited indoor smoking amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frankel says his forthcoming bill will seek to close all of the Clean Indoor Air Act loopholes. His legislation will also expand on the definition of electronic cigarettes and vapes to prohibit those devices from being used indoors.
State Leader Smoke-Free
Pennsylvania overtook New Jersey last year to become the nation’s second-richest gaming state behind Nevada. Pennsylvania’s top casino in terms of 2022 gaming revenue was Parx north of Philadelphia in Bensalem.
Parx last year generated brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue (GGR) of $637.5 million. That topped the list of the state’s 16 land-based casinos.
Parx decided amid the pandemic to permanently ban indoor smoking from its entire gaming floor. Eric Hausler, president and CEO of Greenwood Racing Inc., the parent organization of Parx, says the decision was in the best interest of employees and reduces the “wear and tear” on the property.
But it’s worth noting that while retail slot revenue climbed 4.5% last year statewide, Parx terminals saw their win decline by 3.8%. Parx tables also won 1.4% fewer dollars year-over-year while table revenue climbed more than 7% statewide.
Other Pennsylvania casinos that have tried going smoke-free have since reversed course. Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Mount Airy Casino both recently brought back indoor smoking after announcing they were going smoke-free.
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