St. Louis County Finds Casino Smoking Compromise for River City, Hollywood

Posted on: August 10, 2023, 10:37h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2023, 02:49h.

The St. Louis County Council has found an indoor smoking compromise with Penn Entertainment, the casino operator of River City Casino and Hollywood Casino.

St. Louis County casino smoking Missouri
A gambler smokes a cigarette while playing a slot machine in Atlantic City. The two casinos in St. Louis County, Mo., are likely going to have to limit indoor casino smoking to 50% of their gaming spaces should a county executive sign off on the county legislature’s amendment to its smoking law. (Image: AP)

At the request of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and local Health Department Director Dr. Kanika Cunningham, councilmembers have been mulling a local ordinance that would require the county’s two casinos to go entirely smoke-free. Penn pushed back on the proposal by citing claims that such a regulation would put its properties at a competitive disadvantage with casinos elsewhere in Missouri.

Missouri’s 2002 Clean Indoor Air Law requires most indoor workplaces to be smoke-free, but provided exemptions for certain businesses like bars and casinos. The state law additionally allows each county’s elected officials to ultimately decide their tobacco rules.

St. Louis County voters outlawed cigarette use inside casinos through a 2018 local ballot measure. Voters just two years later reversed the smoke-free ordinance after casinos reported reduced gaming revenue and the county saw its annual tax benefit decrease.

Aside from a temporary prohibition of indoor smoke at the two casinos amid the pandemic, Penn has allowed smoking on the gaming floors since the 2020 referendum. And many nonsmokers at River City and Hollywood have complained that the supposedly smoke-free gaming areas on the casino floors are far from smoke-free.

Casino Compromise

St. Louis County lawmakers earlier this month said they wouldn’t force River City and Hollywood to go smoke-free. Penn seemingly convinced the council that a smoking ban would lead to a consequential dip in revenue that could result in layoffs.

However, the St. Louis County Council unanimously passed an ordinance on Tuesday that amends the St. Louis County Indoor Clean Air Code. The amendment limits a casino to permitting smoking on only up to 50% of its gaming space.

Up to 50% of the area of a state-licensed gambling facility where gaming is allowed for those twenty-one (21) years of age or older, including any VIP lounge accessible only through the game floor, whether or not gaming is allowed in the VIP lounge,” the county statute now reads.

The county smoking statute allows police to fine a person convicted of violating the casino smoking statute up to $250. The ordinance now moves from the council to Page’s desk, where the county executive is expected to sign the measure.

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Righrts President and CEO Cynthia Hallet said the partial smoking ban means guests and workers will continue to face hazardous conditions inside the two casinos.

“The notion of a partial smoking policy in casinos is a failed attempt to address the serious health concerns of casino workers and only serves to appease the gaming and tobacco industries,” Hallett said. “The evidence is stark, and the message is clear: compromised policies compromise health. Secondhand smoke respects no boundaries, and allowing smoking in designated areas cannot cloak the pervasive risks it poses. “

Horseshoe Ringer

St. Louis County surrounds the City of St. Louis proper, which is an independent city in the Show-Me State. The city is home to just one casino, Horseshoe St. Louis. Operated by Caesars Entertainment, the Horseshoe allows indoor smoking across the gaming floor.

For guests seeking a fully smoke-free casino, the DraftKings at Casino Queen just across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Ill., offers clean air. Illinois state law requires its commercial casinos to prohibit indoor smoking everywhere.

According to the American Gaming Association, only 10 states have complete casino smoking bans. Along with Illinois, they are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and South Dakota.