Pennsylvania Casino Smoking Faces Legislative Ban

Posted on: Feb 1, 2023 at 6:02 am.

Last updated on: February 1st, 2023, 06:02 am.

Pennsylvania casinos can allow cigarette smoking in portions of their arcades, but a renewed effort is being made in Harrisburg to eliminate the gambling exemption from the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

Pennsylvania casinos smoke Clean Indoor Air Act
A player puffs on a cigarette. Pennsylvania casinos are facing legislative efforts in Harrisburg to force their patrons to smoke outside. (Image: Shutterstock)

Pennsylvania passed its Clean Indoor Air Act in 2008. The law prohibits smoking indoors in public places and workplaces. However, the law provides exceptions for casinos, cigar lounges, private clubs and pubs, which derive the majority of their income from the sale of alcohol.

For casinos, Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act allows any licensed establishment to allocate up to 50% of its gaming space to cigarette smoking. But as cigarette use continues to decline in the Commonwealth — about 14% of Pennsylvania adults today report smoking tobacco — some lawmakers believe it’s time to end the smoking loopholes.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) plans to soon reintroduce a law banning smoking in Pennsylvania casinos. He tried House Bill 2466 last year, but the measure stalled in the House Health Committee.

Frankel’s legislative district includes Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. The casino allows smoking indoors in designated areas. The casino says it recently upgraded its HVAC system with an “indoor air quality purification system” that eliminates contaminated particles and disinfects the air.

burning issue

Frankel said in a memorandum to his fellow lawmakers that smoking rates have been declining since 2008, when Gov. Ed Rendell (D) signed the Clean Indoor Air Act.

As the number of smokers has fallen, we have also focused the health risks of second-hand smoke in a few remaining unprotected workplaces. Casinos, private clubs and some pubs are exposing their workers to unacceptable health risks by exploiting loopholes in our Clean Indoor Air Act,” Frankel wrote.

“Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to choose between their work and their health,” he continued.

Frankel pointed to research showing that smoke-free environments attract more customers — not fewer. He also cited Pennsylvania’s casino revenue, which was doing well even as the state temporarily banned indoor smoking amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frankel says his upcoming bill will seek to close any loopholes in the Clean Indoor Air Act. His legislation will also expand the definition of electronic cigarettes and vapes to ban these devices from being used indoors.

Leader smoke free

Pennsylvania overtook New Jersey last year to become the second richest gambling state in the nation after Nevada. Pennsylvania’s top casino in terms of gaming revenue in 2022 was Parx just north of Philadelphia in Bensalem.

Parx had gross gaming revenue (BGR) of $637.5 million last year. That topped the list of the state’s 16 land-based casinos.

Amid the pandemic, Parx decided to permanently ban indoor smoking across its entire playing space. Eric Hausler, president and CEO of Greenwood Racing Inc., Parx’s parent organization, says the decision is in the best interests of employees and reduces “wear and tear” on the property.

But it’s worth noting that while revenue from retail vending machines rose 4.5% nationwide last year, Parx terminals saw their profits fall 3.8%. Parx tables also gained 1.4% fewer dollars year over year, while national table revenue increased more than 7%.

Other Pennsylvania casinos that have tried to go smoke-free have since reversed course. Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Mount Airy Casino both recently reintroduced indoor smoking after announcing plans to go smoke-free.

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