Cherokee Casinos in North Carolina Could Remain Smoke-Free Permanently

Posted on: May 24, 2021, 10:33h. 

Last updated on: May 24, 2021, 12:24h.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Valley River Casino have been smoke-free since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A proposed ordinance to amend the Cherokee Code seeks to keep their indoor air clean of tobacco smoke on a permanent basis.

Cherokee casinos North Carolina Harrah's
An effort is underway to permanently ban indoor smoking at the two casinos owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The entrance to one location is seen above. Caesars Entertainment manages operations at both resorts under its Harrah’s brand. (Image: Flickr)

A group of tribal members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has proposed an ordinance that would amend Chapter 16 of the Cherokee Code to prohibit all forms of indoor casino smoking. 

“Tobacco and non-tobacco smoking shall be prohibited in all public indoor areas of the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Valley River Casino properties,” the ordinance states. “This section expressly prohibits smoking of tobacco, non-tobacco, and electronic cigarettes in indoor spaces of all gaming establishments of the Eastern Band.”

Lavita Hill, an EBCI tribal member and one of the ordinance’s authors, says smoke-free casinos have an easier time attracting employees. She claims workers at smoke-free casinos also use fewer sick days, health insurance premiums decline, and cleaning and maintenance costs drop.

The casino smoking ban does not seek to end smoking inside designated hotel rooms. 

Revenues Strong for Non-Smoking Casinos 

Backers of the proposed casino smoking prohibition claim that gross gaming revenue (GGR) has not been negatively impacted by the temporary ban on cigarettes indoors.

“Casino revenues, since going smoke-free a year ago, have not decreased. The financial experiment has already been done, and it has succeeded. People want our casinos to stay smoke-free. The financials support this decision,” said Hill, as reported by the One Feather, an online site for Cherokee news. 

Commercial casinos in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland have all experienced record monthly gross gaming revenue in 2021. And each of those three states prohibited smoking inside on the casino floors when they hit their all-time GGR highs. 

“Old arguments from the [gaming] industry fighting smoke-free policies no longer hold water,” declared Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR). 

The ANR reports that more than 160 tribal casinos are currently banning indoor smoking. Nearly 1,100 commercial casinos are, too.

June Consideration

The permanent indoor smoking ban is expected to be considered during the Tribal Council’s session next month. Neither Tribal leaders nor officials at the two Harrah’s casino resorts commented on the ordinance proposal. 

“We are not asking Tribal Council to do anything radical. We are just asking them to keep things the way they are now,” Hill explained. “We want the decision about this to be made by our Cherokee tribal leaders, not by corporate casino people in Las Vegas. We are a sovereign nation, and we should remember that.”

Along with the ordinance submission, the backers cited a 2011 study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found that 54 percent of patrons of tribal casinos said they would “likely visit more” if the venue was smoke-free. Only 18 percent said they would visit less.

The initiative added that the tribe should do all it can to keep its casinos attractive in wake of ongoing competition.

“With new gaming threats all around the EBCI, it is imperative we try to attract as many people as possible who want to enjoy a clean and safe indoor environment at our casino resort properties,” the submission concludes.