Rhode Island Senate President Says if Casino Smoking Offends, ‘Stay Home’

Posted on: December 22, 2023, 09:07h. 

Last updated on: December 26, 2023, 11:33h.

Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-North Providence) is known for fancying a fag. It’s presumably why he’s siding with smokers in the state’s consideration of whether to end indoor tobacco use at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Bally’s Tiverton.

Rhode Island casino smoking Bally's
Rhode Island Senate President Dominic Ruggerio speaks at the rebranding event of Bally’s Twin River Lincoln in September 2021. Ruggerio is no fan of extinguishing smoking inside the state’s two casinos. (Image: GoLocal)

Ruggerio believes smoke-free casinos would cost the state tax money, because many gamblers enjoy smoking. With iGaming slated to begin in April after state lawmakers and Gov. Dan McKee (D) this year approved a bill authorizing online slot machines and table games, Ruggerio says gamblers who dislike the smell of smoke can stay home.

If you have iGaming, you can stay home. You don’t have to go. If that [smoking] offends you, you can stay home and gamble,” Ruggerio said during an interview with the Boston Globe.

It isn’t the first time the Senate president expressed rather strong opposition to casino workers who desire a clean-air workplace. In June, Ruggerio said that the casino workers who are complaining about cigarette and cigar smoke “took those jobs knowing” that there was smoking.

“Now, all of a sudden, there’s a small group who feels that it’s not good for their health,” Ruggerio said. “Wear a mask. Work in an area where they don’t permit smoking. I think the adjustment has to be made, not legislatively, but between the workers and Bally’s.”

State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Narragansett) says she’ll introduce legislation to ban casino smoking when the 2024 legislative session begins in January.

President Demands $15M for Smoking Ban

Ruggerio argues a smoking ban at Rhode Island’s two casinos would cost the state $15 million a year in reduced gaming taxes.

As I told the unions: give us the $15 million that we are going to lose. They haven’t ponied up yet. If they want to give us the revenue that we will lose as a result, I’ll stop smoking,” Ruggerio declared.

Ruggerio claims that many Rhode Island gamblers checked out Encore Boston Harbor, a $2.6 billion integrated resort from Wynn Resorts, when it opened in June 2019.

“They couldn’t smoke there, especially in the winter, so they came back here,” Ruggerio stated.

Massachusetts law prohibits casino smoking. Casino smoking is also no more at Connecticut’s two tribal casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. The Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation decided to keep their casinos smoke-free in the pandemic’s aftermath.

Rhode Island Smoking Law

Under the state’s 2004 Public Health and Workplace Safety Act, Rhode Island’s two commercial casinos can designate parts of their gaming floor for smoking. The spaces are to be “physically separated” from the nonsmoking area and be equipped with a separate ventilation system.

Many casino workers and some guests say the secondhand smoke doesn’t only stay in the smoking section, but permeates the supposedly smoke-free areas. A grassroots coalition of Bally’s workers formed a local chapter of CEASE, Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, an organization that began in New Jersey, where casino workers are fighting to make Atlantic City casinos go smoke-free.

CEASE also has chapters in Pennsylvania and Kansas. To date, no CEASE group has helped champion changes to their state’s casino smoking laws.

It appeared New Jersey would hold a full Senate and Assembly vote on legislation to end Atlantic City casino smoking. That’s until several Republicans flip-flopped their support in committee. Those lawmakers now want to hear from the casinos with possible remedial solutions other than a complete smoking ban. The Atlantic City casino industry contends that a smoking ban would lead to a more than 2,000 jobs layoff.