Missouri Casinos in St. Louis County Retain Smoking After Ordinance Extinguished

Posted on: August 2, 2023, 10:46h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2023, 09:29h.

Missouri casinos in St. Louis County were facing a potential smoking ban after local government officials motioned to prohibit indoor smoking at the two gaming venues.

Missouri casinos smoking St. Louis County
A smoker puffs on a cigarette while a person in the background covers their face in an attempt to avoid secondhand smoke. Missouri casinos in St. Louis County will continue allowing indoor smoking on certain sections of their gaming floors after local officials decided against an indoor smoking ban. (Image: Adobe Stock)

St. Louis County borders the independent city of St. Louis. The county is home to two commercial casinos, Hollywood Casino St. Louis in Maryland Heights, and River City Casino Lemay. Both properties are operated by Penn Entertainment, which was Penn National Gaming until a year ago this month, when the Pennsylvania-based gaming firm underwent a rebranding.

Dr. Kanika Cunningham, the county health department director, encouraged the casino smoking ban to be implemented. Currently, the two casinos can designate up to 30% of their gaming floors for indoor smoking.

Even if there are partial smoking restrictions, there’s no way to allow for smoke-free air,” Cunningham said before the council in May. “The current ventilation systems can reduce the odor, but it does not reduce the level of hazardous exposure.”

Officials representing Penn Entertainment took the other side, and petitioned the St. Louis County Council to vote against the proposal to eliminate indoor casino smoking. The company argued that such a regulation would place its two Missouri casinos at a competitive disadvantage with casinos elsewhere in the Show-Me State, including casinos in St. Louis proper and East St. Louis, Il.

Penn’s argument resonated, as the County Council shelved the no-smoking ordinance during its Tuesday night meeting.

Hollywood Casino reported to the Missouri Gaming Commission having 685 employees at the end of 2022. River City reported 610 employees.

Patchwork Smoking Regulatory Environment

Missouri lawmakers took a bit of an atypical approach to regulating indoor smoking when they passed the state’s Clean Indoor Air Law in 2002. The statute prohibits indoor tobacco use in most public and private places, including workplaces, most retail and commercial establishments, schools and places of learning, restaurants that don’t derive the majority of their revenue from alcohol or tobacco sales, childcare facilities, and health care facilities.

But the state law allows for counties to ultimately determine their indoor smoking laws. Many counties, including St. Louis, have provided indoor smoking exemptions for bars and taverns, bowling alleys, billiard parlors, and gaming venues like casinos. The state tasked counties and municipalities with determining whether to allow smoking inside those kinds of businesses. The state statute does limit indoor smoking to no more than 50% of the total indoor floor space.

The state law doesn’t require exempt places from offering indoor smoking areas.

Competitive Landscape

Missouri is home to 13 riverboat and land-based casinos, and all remain with indoor smoking sections. Penn’s two properties are among the most successful of the baker’s dozen of casinos.

During the state’s 2023 fiscal year that ended June 30, River City generated gross gaming revenue (GGR) of more than $254.8 million. That ranked second in the state, behind only Ameristar Casino Resort St. Charles at $303 million. Penn’s Hollywood Casino ranked third at approximately $243.6 million.

Casinos share 21% of their gross gaming income with the state, and additionally pay a $2 per person admission tax. River City counted about 4.1 million patrons during the 12-month period, while Hollywood Casino welcomed about 3.7 million guests.