Pennsylvania Casino Smoking Opponents Rally at Harrisburg Capitol

Posted on: June 11, 2024, 04:36h. 

Last updated on: June 12, 2024, 10:16h.

Pennsylvania casino smoking opponents gathered Tuesday at the Harrisburg Capitol where they called on state lawmakers to support workers’ health by passing legislation to force the state’s 17 brick-and-mortar casinos to go smoke-free.

Pennsylvania casino smoking Dan Frankel
Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Frankel rallies support for his bill to end indoor casino smoking. Members of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE)  and the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) hosted the event in Harrisburg on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Image: X)

The Pennsylvania chapter of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) joined the United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 9 union to rally for pro-worker bills that continue lingering in the state capital building. One measure they voiced support for was House Bill 1657, the so-called Protecting Workers From Secondhand Smoke Act.

Legislators have a responsibility to stand with workers and that means ensuring the safety of everyone in the workplace, starting with eliminating indoor smoking in our casinos,” said Jennifer Rubolino, a table games dealer at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and a CEASE co-lead in the commonwealth. “Closing the casino smoking loophole is not just a moral duty but a smart decision for the state, especially considering that 90% of guests do not smoke.”

HB 1657 was introduced in September 2023 by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), who chairs the House Health Committee and for years has been trying to close the casino smoking loophole. The measure passed Frankel’s Health Committee in mid-November with a 13-11 partisan vote where each “yea” vote came from Democrats and each “nay” came from all GOP members.

Health Over Profits

Many Republican lawmakers have seemingly sided with the casino lobby on claims that a full smoking ban would push some gamblers to nearby Atlantic City where indoor smoking remains permitted in certain sections. The casinos claim a tobacco prohibition would reduce revenue and result in the gaming venues cutting jobs.

Of the 17 casinos in the commonwealth, just two don’t take advantage of the smoking privilege made available through the state’s 2008 Clean Indoor Air Act. Parx Casino north of downtown Philadelphia in Bensalem and its sister property, Parx Casino Shippensburg, are the exceptions.

The primary Parx property has been the top-grossing casino in the state for several years. While smoking proponents say that’s because the casino gets much of the nonsmoking crowd in the Philadelphia metro, casino smoking opponents say it’s because smoke-free casinos are preferred by the majority of the public.

‘We’ve seen the success of smoke-free casinos in this state,” Rubolino continued.

Rubolino added that even if smoke-free casinos generated less revenue, clean indoor air workplaces and protecting workers’ health should outweigh in importance casino companies’ bottom lines.

“How do you put a price on the health of employees? We urge legislators to pass comprehensive smoke-free laws to ensure that no one has to sacrifice their health for a paycheck,” she concluded.

Session Longer Than Most

Many state governments have much shorter sessions than Pennsylvania. The Keystone State’s lawmaking period for 2024 began on January 2 and runs through November 30, meaning there’s still plenty of time for Frankel’s casino smoking bill to get across the finish line.

Frankel joined CEASE and UAW Region 9 on Tuesday. The UAW represents table game dealers, slot attendants, casino hosts, cage cashiers, and others who work directly on the gaming floors.

“Unions in Pennsylvania and unions around this country have fought for workers and it’s not just wages and benefits,” Frankel said at the capital. “It is also for their health and welfare. That is what we are talking about with the Clean Indoor Air Act.