Anti-Smoking Advocates Using COVID-19 to Push for Smokeless Casinos

Posted on: November 21, 2020, 12:02h. 

Last updated on: November 20, 2020, 02:12h.

Anti-smoking coalitions are using the COVID-19 pandemic as a weapon in their crusade to convince lawmakers to permanently stop the indoor consumption of tobacco on casino floors.

casino smoking Nevada Las Vegas
Smoking should not be permitted inside on casino floors, says one advocacy organization. (Image: ANR)

This week, the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) submitted a letter to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) calling on him to ban smoking inside casinos.

“We urge you to require that all Nevada casinos immediately adopt a smoke-free indoor policy, which is a better alternative to once again closing gaming properties,” wrote Cynthia Hallett, ANR president and CEO.

During this pandemic centered on respiratory issues, it’s unfathomable that Nevada casinos currently permit guests to smoke indoors. It makes no sense to allow guests to remove their mask and blow secondhand smoke — along with droplets carrying a potentially life-threatening disease — into shared indoor air. This jeopardizes the health of gaming employees and guests alike, and no credible public health official would approve of such an activity,” Hallett added.

Numerous states have allowed their commercial casinos to reopen, but without indoor smoking. Sisolak opted not to issue such a directive when Silver State casinos were permitted to recommence operations in early June.

Smoking Opinions

The rumor mill is churning quickly with word that Sisolak is set to soon announce new restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. The state twice this week set single-day records by eclipsing more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases.

“I am incredibly concerned about the severity of COVID-19 in our state, as demonstrated in the increase in numbers,” Sisolak stated. “My administration is exploring all mitigation options available to get this under control, while walking a tightrope to balance public health and economic impacts.”

ANR says the science shows that cigarette and cigar smoking indoors is likely playing a role in the fall surge. But gambling and smoking has gone hand in hand for decades, and that has some gaming industry experts concerned with a potential prohibition indoors.

“Certainly, there is a perception that smokers are very serious gamblers, and I think that definitely factors into this perception that people who smoke, while numerically they’re a minority of the customer base, they might generate a lot more of the casino revenue,” explained David Schwartz, a gaming historian and UNLV professor.

The thinking is that casinos can easily see customers who prefer smoking while gambling. They can’t as easily identify those who don’t gamble primarily because smoking is permitted.

Non-Smoking Trendsetter

In September, MGM Resorts made history by announcing the first non-smoking casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip. The company reopened Park MGM as a “full smoke-free” property, a move the American Lung Association hailed as “a landmark for the Strip, Las Vegas, and Nevada.”

The ANR says there are more than 1,000 casinos in the nation that do not permit smoking on their casino floors. Only two are in Nevada.

In addition to Park MGM, the Wa She Shu Casino & Travel Plaza in Gardnerville does not permit indoors smoking.