ANR wants Only Smoke-free Casinos to Get Covid-19 Government Relief. Will it stick in New Jersey?

American Gaming Association (AGA) President and CEO Bill Miller, recently received a 2-page letter urging smoke-free casinos from Advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR). The ANR asked the AGA to exclude casinos that allow smoking from receiving any federal COVID-19 relief funds. That plea came the day before the AGA’s semi-annual board meeting. Bill Miller has not commented on the request.

Are Smoke-free Casinos the New Normal?

Smoke-free Casinos, an Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights educational project. ANR CEO Cynthia Hallett tweeted a portion of the letter, asserting that indoor smoking “promotes the spread of COVID-19.”

In that letter, Hallett advised Miller to “only accept taxpayer dollars if casino operators agree to adopt a smoke-free casino policy that would help to keep employees and guests safe.”

The Berkeley, California-based Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights also shared the letter with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, of the Congressional Gaming Caucus.

In her letter to Miller, Hallett also asserted that as head of the American Gaming Association, he should use his “leadership position argue to your members why a smoke-free indoors policy is smart.” However, Hallett held back on questioning why the gambling industry needed tax relief due to state-mandated closures, which resulted in massive unemployment and revenue losses.

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Miller Calls for Tax and Regulatory Relief

Miller issued a ‘State of the Casinos’ speech online at the G2E 2020 conference in October. In that speech, he urgently called for additional regulatory and tax relief from the federal government for the gaming industry, due to the devastation wreaked by the coronavirus shutdowns. He demanded federal COVID-19 financial assistance for not only the casinos, but also their employees. He also demanded tax relief to help save gaming industry employment, ease expenses related to the shutdowns, and to help boost tourism.

According to a report by the ANR Foundation, there are nearly 965 casinos and gambling halls across the country that maintain a smoke-free environment indoors. Of that total, nearly 790 of those had those policies from before the pandemic and the ensuing Covid-related mandates. In New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, current state guidelines prohibit smoking inside casinos.

Smoke-free Casinos Can Be Successful

In Nevada, the country’s biggest gambling state, MGM Resorts International reopened Park MGM in September as a 100% smoke-free casino property, becoming the first Las Vegas resort to do so.

The Nevada Resort Association said its more than 70 members already abide by state laws on clean indoor air.

An association spokesperson responded via email that, “Our member resorts cater to the diversity of our guests’ preferences by offering both smoking and non-smoking environments where it’s allowed by law. Furthermore, the resort industry has always placed air quality as a top priority and invest heavily in advanced technology to circulate fresh air and remove smoke and odors. As part of the ongoing appraisal of the latest health and safety protocols, our members have reviewed their HVAC systems and have instituted additional measures to maximize the circulation of fresh air and have increased the replacement of air filters and system cleaning.”

The Industry Fears Smoke-free Casinos will Reduce Revenue

Casinos that haven’t implemented a smoke-free environment have indicated a drop in revenue could result if smokers were banned.

In her letter to Miller, Hallett lauded Park MGM’s decision to ban smoking. She also pointed out that any casino worried about plunging revenue from going smoke-free only needs to look at successful smoke-free casinos.

Hallett also pointed to annual revenue growth for casinos in Ohio and Maryland, which have adopted smoke-free casino policies. She concluded that, “Gaming industry arguments against going smoke-free are stale and don’t withstand scrutiny.”

“Casinos in states that were forced to institute state-imposed, temporary smoking bans to reopen, such as in Pennsylvania, have seen revenues remain relatively stable year-over-year,” stated Hallett. “That’s interesting if you consider they have been operating at a significantly reduced capacity, and the state-imposed smoke-free casino policies has helped to keep 99% of gaming employees COVID-free.”

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