- Total smoking ban on the table in St. Louis County.
- Health officials say only a total ban will work for player and employee health.
- Local casinos do not want a full smoking ban due to the issues it may cause.
Smoking has become a hot topic of debate when it comes to land-based casino gaming. The state of New Jersey has been in a battle for smoking, with employees and residents hoping it will be banned whilst casinos wanting to keep it.
In Missouri, officials in St. Louis County are working on banning smoking at local casinos, and if the measure passes, it will be the first area in the state to do so.
Changing the Indoor Smoking Ban Legislation
Since 2011, casinos have been exempted from the indoor smoking ban in St. Louis County. The exception has been up for debate for quite some time as health officials feel it is a serious concern for employees around the smoke.
During a recent council meeting, Dr. Kanika Cunningham spoke, stating that even with partial restrictions on smoking, there is no smoke-free environment in the casino facilities. The ventilation systems in the casinos can help with the odor but do not decrease the exposure level that remains hazardous to one’s health. Dr. Cunningham is the Director of the county health department.
Council members questioned whether players would travel to other counties to play casino games if smoking were banned. Smoking is allowed in other counties of Missouri, with other venues offering gambling services.
Cunningham pointed out that recent data shows that a smoking ban does not create a loss of business. Venues in other states with such bans have not experienced a revenue loss.
Casinos Are Not in Agreement
General Manager and Vice President of Hollywood Casino Michael Jerlecki was also on hand to speak during the meeting, stating that the health department handpicked its information. Jerlecki says that a total smoking ban that only applies to St. Louis County would place the Hollywood Casino at a competitive disadvantage to other casinos in the state.
Hundreds of quality jobs would be at risk, along with tax revenues and economic activity generated by the casino. PENN Entertainment owns Hollywood Casino and the River City Casino in St. Louis County. The casinos employ over 1,200 individuals and bring in $145 million in tax payments annually.
In 2018, voters in the county approved a measure limiting smoking to 50% of the casino floor. A new vote in 2020 reversed that decision. However, the two casinos operated by PENN kept the 50% change. Jerlecki feels this is the best way to provide what customers are looking for.
It will be interesting to see if the council decides to go ahead with the measure and how the outcome will impact the local gaming industry, either positively or negatively.