Saracen Casino Wants to Allow Arkansas Patrons a Cigarette Puff in Pine Bluff

Posted on: August 28, 2019, 11:49h. 

Last updated on: September 1, 2019, 11:23h.

Saracen Casino Resort wants to be excluded from a Pine Bluff, Arkansas city ordinance that requires smoke-free workplaces. The venue likely opens there next year.

Pine Bluff Arkansas City Council member Bruce Lockett wants to see a smoke-free Saracen Casino Resort. Others, disagree. (Image: YouTube)

The Pine Bluff City Council will review next week whether the $350 million casino should adhere to the local rule, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Carlton Saffa, who is among those overseeing the casino construction, warned a city council committee this week that a smoking ban could lower the casino’s income, the newspaper reported. In turn, there would be lower tax revenue for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

Saffa adds that the Downstream Development Authority, the Quapaw Nation organization that is building the casino, is concerned about worker health, too. The new casino includes an air filtration system which recirculates air every 10 minutes. The tribe placed a comparable filtration system in another venue, Downstream Casino in Quapaw, Oklahoma.

But Katherine Donald, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas, said that smoke-free workplaces could decrease healthcare costs and are healthier for employees.

“We don’t believe, in the state of Arkansas, that a worker should have to jeopardize their health to earn a living,” Donald was quoted by the Democrat Gazette.

Yet, council member Ivan Whitfield cautioned if the ban was effective earlier, the casino may not have been built in the region.

“If this had been in place before they turned dirt out there, I don’t believe they would have ever turned dirt,” Whitfield was quoted by the newspaper. “Gambling, drinking, and smoking goes together. It’s just that way.”

In an interview with, council member Bruce Lockett said that a casino “is a workplace and an entertainment venue that caters to the general public [and] … should respect the need for their employees and patrons to be healthy.”

He explained that most of the state’s population are nonsmokers. So that is the larger market for the casino than those who smoke.

Given that “at least” 800 smoke-free casinos operate nationwide, “there is not a strong argument that smoke-free casinos do not make money,” he added.

And as far as the new casino’s $2 million to $3 million air filtration system, Lockett responded: “Wow! Just think what could be done [with] this money if it was invested into [the] local community.”

Also, an Illinois smoking ban has not damaged casino revenue in that state, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Economic Research.

Diminished Rights for Smokers

But Lindsey Stroud, state government relations manager of the Heartland Institute, countered that like with most legislation aimed at reducing smoking-related healthcare costs, “smoking bans don’t address the rights of smokers. In fact, they diminish those rights,” she said.

“Although addressing the health risks related to smoking is laudable, casinos and other gambling institutions are already age restricted establishments, either 18 or 21, depending on the state,” Stroud told “The Saracen Casino Resort [will require] … persons to be 21.

Smoking bans in casinos have little effect on smoking cessation and abstention and are unlikely to impact those numbers, but rather just punish smokers by requiring them to go outside,” Stroud added. That leads to a loss of revenue for the casino, she predicts.

Also, the interest of the venue operator is “to be profitable, and a smoking ban will decrease revenue, as showcased in Illinois,” she said. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimated that Illinois’ casino-smoking ban contributed to a 20-22 percent decline in revenue, or a loss of approximately $400 million, she said.

“Although this proposed ban is in the interest of protecting workers’ health, it is likely a negative consequence would be loss of jobs for those same employees as owners try to recoup the lost revenue,” she explained. “Indiana casino operators have raised similar concerns when their own localities were looking into banning smoking at casinos.”

Also, Stroud described the new casino’s air filtration system “a fantastic idea that can help reduce health risks associated with secondhand smoke…. The council should note that the casino is being pre-emptive and covering the costs….”

Also, she says that smokers gamble more than nonsmokers. Further, smokers in casinos without bans spend more money, she adds.

Pine Bluff estimates they will receive $10 million annually in tax revenue. But this is likely to be less if they move forward with a smoking ban, Stroud predicts. Arkansas “could stand to profit from additional revenue from smokers traveling to a casino they can smoke in,” she adds.

In response, Rachel Callanan, senior staff attorney at the Public Health Law Center at Minnesota’s Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told “second-hand smoke exposure significantly impacts the health of casino employees.”

Health Risks from Secondhand Smoke

The center cites studies that secondhand smoke exposure levels can be 2.4 to 18.5 times higher in casinos than in offices, and up to 11.7 times higher than in restaurants. The US Surgeon General has found that secondhand smoke exposure is toxic and causes cancer, heart disease, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.

But Stroud counters, “The risks of secondhand smoke are largely overblown.
“There is not consistent data to indicate that secondhand smoke is as harmful as opponents of smoking say that it is,” she said.

On the state level, Arkansas recently approved legislation that exempts casino floors from the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006. That law aims to protect workers and Arkansas residents from secondhand smoke while in the public or in workplaces.