Bill to Outlaw Casino Smoking in Rhode Island Faces Long Odds

Posted on: May 23, 2024, 08:49h. 

Last updated on: May 23, 2024, 09:58h.

Rhode Island lawmakers earlier this month shelved legislation that would force the state’s two brick-and-mortar casinos to go smoke-free. As the legislative session approaches its summer conclusion, the odds of the two measures passing seemingly lengthen.

Rhode Island casino smoking Bally's
A woman smokes a cigarette while playing a slot machine at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln. State legislative efforts to force casinos in Rhode Island to go smoke-free appear dead in 2024. (Image: The Providence Journal)

House Bill 7500 was introduced in February. The statute would repeal the indoor smoking provisions provided to Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Bally’s Tiverton through the state’s Public Health and Workplace Safety Act passed in 2004.

The partisan measure, backed by 10 Democrats but zero Republicans, received consideration earlier this month in the House Finance Committee. The committee heard from casino workers who say the state’s ongoing allowance of indoor smoking threatens their health and argue they deserve the same workplace protections as nearly all other industries.

Bally’s reps argued a smoking ban would hurt their operations and, subsequently, the state by reducing gaming income. The Bally’s casinos run slot-like video lottery terminals (VLTs) on behalf of the Rhode Island Lottery. The state receives about 60% of the VLT revenue.

Casino Smoking Bills Mothballed

The House Finance Committee, despite being controlled by Democrats 13-2, decided to hold HB 7500 instead of voting to move it to the full House floor. The committee “recommended the measure be held for further study.”

There’s since been no action on the bill. The Senate version of HB 7500, Senate Bill 2368, has also been shelved. Senate Finance Committee members motioned to hold the bill for further review, too.

Rhode Island’s two casinos can designate as much of their gaming floors for smoking as they wish. However, nonsmoking sections are to be “physically separated” from smoking areas and equipped with separate ventilation systems.

Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Vice President Craig Sculo told the House Finance Committee that smoking bans aren’t good for a casino’s business. Sculo said the Bally’s casinos offer employees options to work in smoke-free areas and just this month added a second nonsmoking gaming space at the Lincoln resort that complements the smoke-free second-floor casino.

Lawmakers behind the push to extinguish smoking say secondhand smoke doesn’t abide by smoking section rules and permeates much of the workplace.

Imagine what it’s like, night after night, going home with cigarette smell in your hair, having to shower before you even got into bed,” said state Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown), a former smoker and lead sponsor of HB 7500. “Every single night, throwing your clothes in the laundry every single night because of the stench of smoking.”

Tanzi doesn’t buy what Bally’s is selling in claiming a smoking ban would hurt business. She said many restaurants and bars argued the same before the state’s 2004 smoking law went into effect.

“The sky has not fallen, and we are all better off as a result,” Tanzi said. “I’m optimistic this would make things better for casino workers and the bottom line of the state budget.”

Time Ticking

As the casino smoking bills linger in the Providence capital, the 2024 legislative session for the Rhode Island General Assembly moves toward its end. The legislature is set to adjourn on June 30.

Bally’s shareholders recently voted down a proposal raised by an investor to study the financial implications of making the company’s casinos smoke-free.

The results of the vote haven’t yet been made public. If at least 5% of the shares voted in favor of the study, the matter can be raised again during the company’s 2025 annual meeting.