Iowa Tribal Casinos Continue Coronavirus Smoking Ban

Posted on: July 23, 2020, 01:59h. 

Last updated on: July 24, 2020, 02:06h.

Iowa’s tribal gaming properties are likely to remain smoke-free to lessen the risk of transmitting COVID-19 among workers and players.

Prairie Flower smoke free casino
The Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake, Iowa, is one of four tribal casinos in the state that remains smoke-free. (Image:

In the last two months, four casinos — the Blackbird Bend Casino, Meskwaki Bingo Casino, Prairie Flower Casino, and WinnaVegas Casino Resort — reopened following months of shuttering because of the pandemic. Among the new precautions is a ban on smoking inside the gaming venues, according to Iowa Public Radio.

“Once again, casino operators have to ensure patrons that the casino floor is a safe environment,” the Rev. Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who closely follows gambling trends, told when asked about the ban.

“When someone is smoking, there is a much greater chance that someone might inhale smoke that contains the COVID-19 virus,” McGowan added. “Plus, how can someone be wearing a mask while smoking a cigarette?”

No Smoking?

Among the state’s commercial and tribal casinos, many are now requiring face masks. Ten establishments require visitors to wear masks inside the venue. Some are enforcing the requirement when visitors are six feet or less from each other. Thirteen of the state’s casinos do not mandate wearing of face masks, but facial coverings are recommended, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, a local newspaper.

Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, which owns Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake, told Iowa Public Radio that allowing smoking would have conflicted with the venue’s face covering requirement.

As we looked at it, it would be very difficult to enforce a 100 percent mask requirement when you have people in the casino smoking,” Wright told the station. “They would obviously need to remove their masks for that.”

Since reopening in June, Prairie Flower Casino has banned smoking and vaping in the casino. Wright admitted that some visitors disagreed with the ban, the report said. The tribal casino set up a smoking area, approximately 50 feet from the entrance, for smokers.

WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, also has been smoke-free since June 12. Masks are required inside the venue. Michael Michaud, the casino’s marketing director, told Iowa Public Radio, “We’re taking care of our community members and our guests and our team members as much as we can.”

Visitors to WinnaVegas can smoke in a designated area some 20 feet away from the entrance.

Before WinnaVegas resumed operations last month, patron surveys indicated 17 percent of those responding said they would not visit the casino if it went smoke-free.

“So we know that that segment of our guests still want to come back, they want to gamble, and they want to smoke, and they’re not going to come back until we have smoking available inside of the property,” Michaud told Iowa Public Radio.

Under Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act, casinos do not have to be smoke-free. The 2008 law bans smoking in “almost all public places and enclosed areas within places of employment.” The venues regulated by the state law include bars, offices, restaurants, and theaters. Iowa’s 19 commercial casinos and the several tribal casinos are exempt from the smoke-free rule.

Lung Association Wants Permanent Ban

When asked for comment, Kristina Hamilton, advocacy director for the American Lung Association, told Iowa Public Radio the smoke-free policy at the Iowa tribal casinos “will protect the health of workers and customers from dangerous secondhand smoke and e-cigarette emissions, and we call for the permanent adoption of this policy.

We strongly urge other casinos to adopt a similar smoke-free policy and follow the lead of Blackbird Bend, WinnaVegas, Meskwaki Bingo, and Prairie Flower Casinos,” she added.

“We really haven’t seen a decline in business in states that do have smoke-free casino policies,” Hamilton was further quoted by Radio Iowa. “For bars and restaurants as well, owners were afraid that people would go to bars and restaurants less because they’re smoke-free, and that isn’t the case.”

Others Go Smoke-free

Elsewhere, earlier this month, multiple Pennsylvania gaming properties went smoke-free after recent directives from state regulators to improve worker and player health.

Most gaming properties in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey reopened several weeks ago, and are also banning smoking indoors. The gaming floor prohibition extends to food and drinks, too, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Last year, Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison forbid e-cigarette use and vaping inside the venue, adding to its existing ban on tobacco products. The recent move led to wide support from anti-smoking supporters, who hope it encourages other gaming properties to become totally smoke-free.