North Carolina Cherokee Casinos Implementing Indoor Smoking Safeguards

Posted on: December 9, 2021, 04:50h. 

Last updated on: December 9, 2021, 06:07h.

North Carolina’s two Cherokee casinos — Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in Murphy — will soon welcome back smokers.

North Carolina Cherokee casinos smoking
A welcome sign at the Cherokee Casino Hotel in North Carolina. Indoor casino smoking remains on hold at the tribal resort. But the property has plans to incorporate fully enclosed smoking gaming sections in the future. (Image: Flickr)

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ (EBCI) Tribal Council today voted in favor of an ordinance that only permits indoor casino smoking in specially designed enclosed areas. The smoking containments must prevent any flow of smoke and vapor onto the common gaming floor, where smoking will be prohibited.

The Cherokee casinos previously allowed indoor smoking in designated areas. But those areas were not completely partitioned off from the supposedly smoke-free sections.

Macau, the world’s richest casino market, has long utilized such standalone smoking structures inside their casinos. The highly technical configurations continually push contaminated air outside while circulating in fresh air.

Pandemic Testing Ground

The Cherokee casinos did not need to abide by any state order regarding their operations during COVID-19, as the gaming resorts are on tribal sovereign land. But EBCI leaders nonetheless voluntarily suspended indoor smoking in the spring of 2020 because of the coronavirus.

Despite tobacco use being halted, tribal officials reported that gaming revenue numbers have not been negatively impacted.

We made a lot of money without cigarettes, pipes, and cigars being lit up in our casino,” said EBCI Councilmember Teresa McCoy.

McCoy added that numerous casino workers have thanked the tribal council for the pandemic-related smoking ban. Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed, a self-described gambler, says he’s enjoyed visiting the casinos without the smoke.

However, Brooks Robinson, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee, said there’s a considerable number of guests who have voiced frustration about not being able to light up while gambling. It’s why the GM of the tribe’s flagship casino supported building separate fully enclosed gaming sections where smoking will be permitted.

Indoor casino smoking will remain off-limits until such structures are built. The tribe did not provide specifics on their size, nor a timetable for when they might be completed.

The tribe says the smoking sections will be staffed only by those employees who are willing to work in the environment.

Tribal Benefits

Cherokee legislative leaders say limiting casino smoking to small enclosed areas will benefit the tribe in a variety of means when it comes to its resort operations. Lavita Hill, who authored the casino smoking amendment, says smoke-free casinos are more attractive to potential employees.

Hill adds that health insurance premiums could be reduced, and workers will likely use fewer sick days as a result of being employed in a smoke-free business. Each casino’s fire and liability insurance costs might also be cut, she opines. And that’s not all.

“Cleaning and maintenance costs go down. Immediately, our Cherokee people will become healthier,” she declared.

The two casinos recently conducted a guest survey regarding smoking. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they would be “likely to visit more” if the main casino floors were fully free of tobacco smoke. Eighteen percent said they would visit less, and the remaining 28 percent said they were indifferent.

Tribal casinos are part of the national trend of casinos going smoke-free. The Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights reports that there are currently 1,038 casinos in the US that are 100 percent smoke-free.