Pennsylvania Casinos Urged to Stay Smoke-Free, Bill Introduced to Amend Clean Indoor Air Act

Posted on: August 27, 2020, 10:32h. 

Last updated on: September 2, 2020, 01:14h.

Pennsylvania casinos are smoke-free businesses currently amid COVID-19, and many in the Keystone State want the gaming floors to remain that way.

Pennsylvania casinos
Pennsylvania casinos are back open for play. (

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), under permission of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), allowed the state’s 12 brick-and-mortar casinos to reopen on a regional approach based on coronavirus data. Once a county saw a downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, casinos could welcome back guests, but under rigorous health and safety protections.

Pre-COVID, smoking was allowed on up to 50 percent of a casino floor. The PGCB did not initially require smoking to be banned after the casinos began reopening in June and July. But that changed when Pennsylvania Heath Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order expanding mandatory face-coverings.

“In reading that order, it became evident that there were very few exceptions to where a mask must be worn, and that there was no exception to pulling down the mask in order to smoke,” said PGCB spokesperson Doug Harbach.

Several casinos had taken proactive measures to ban all indoor smoking prior to Levine’s order. But the stricter face-mask covering regulation effectively resulted in all gaming floors temporarily prohibiting indoor smoking.

Temporary to Permanent

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) has introduced legislation that seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act. Passed in 2008, the law prohibits smoking in indoor public places and work settings. However, it provides numerous exemptions, including for private residences, private social clubs, retail tobacco shops, bars that derive the majority of their revenue from alcohol, and casinos.

The Act allows casinos to allow indoor smoking, but 50 percent of their gaming spaces must be smoke-free.

Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between a job at the casino and their family’s health,” opined Frankel. “Those health risks can be avoided by closing the loopholes found in the Clean Indoor Air Act.”

At a virtual town hall meeting this week hosted by the Breathe Free Pennsylvania Coalition, a casino worker said her current workplace is a much better environment.

“We’re all so happy,” said the woman, who didn’t share her name or place of employment. “I’ve had people blow smoke in my face while I’m writing up a jackpot. I don’t think we should have to suffer for what other people choose to do with their lives.”

Public Backing

According to a 2017 study from the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, three-quarters of US adults favor smoke-free casino policies. And nearly half of cigarette smokers said they support bans on casino smoking.

Public Opinion Strategies, a leading public opinion research firm based in Virginia, concluded in its 2017 poll that 69 percent of Pennsylvania voters would support banning smoking inside casinos.

“Exposure to second-hand smoke kills approximately 41,000 non-smokers in the US every single year,” added Frankel. “It made sense before the pandemic. But the idea of rolling back these [smoke-free] protections once they’ve already been put in place is absolutely inconceivable.”