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Anti-smoking group taking another swing at casino smoking ban

The battle to ban smoking in casinos is heating up again.

Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, a California-based advocacy group seeking to ban smoking in casinos nationwide, has jumped on the record and near-record revenue performances of the nation’s casinos since full reopenings began a few months ago to push for smoke-free casinos.

When Atlantic City casinos reported an all-time revenue record in the month of June, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights President and CEO Cynthia Hallett jumped to the conclusion that revenue and operating smoke-free are connected.

“Another record-breaking revenue month in Atlantic City — while casinos operated smoke-free — offers the latest evidence that smoke-free is good for business,” she said. “Industry arguments for indoor smoking, even in the year 2021, have lost credibility. It’s time for Gov. (Phil) Murphy and Senate President (Stephen) Sweeney to act to finally close the casino loophole so that workers and guests are not forced to breathe harmful secondhand smoke. No one should have to choose between a job and a paycheck.”

The loophole Hallett referenced was an exception in New Jersey’s indoor smoking ban that allows smoking to occur within casinos.

When the pandemic was raging, New Jersey leaders ordered a temporary ban on all smoking in casinos. That expired on the Fourth of July, but Murphy has pledged to support a permanent smoking ban in casinos in the future.

Americans for Nonsmokers Rights has documented that the amount of revenue generated isn’t reliant on the ability to smoke.

According to the anti-smoking group, 22 states and U.S. territories ban smoking at casinos. In the Silver State, thanks to the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking is banned in any stadium or public place that is not a casino, bar or a few other exceptions.

In most cases, a smoking ban results in an initial dip in revenue, followed by an increase to previous levels.

But ask a smoker to put out his cigarette, pipe or stogie in a casino, and you’re bound to get a fight. Some casinos have banned smoking at table games, but most Las Vegas properties allow it.

Like New Jersey, Nevada casinos have seen high gaming win numbers since fully reopening. Most analysts have attributed that to pent-up demand for entertainment and that smoking has nothing to do with it.

One Las Vegas casino that opted to go smoke-free when it reopened to the public at the end of September last year, Park MGM, continues to ban smoking in its casino.

A spokesman for MGM Resorts International said it doesn’t report casino revenue trends by property, so whether Park MGM is making more now than it did before COVID-19 shutdowns is an unknown.

Americans for Nonsmokers Rights also is taking advantage of a big story in the local news: the potential relocation of the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas. Because of that team’s ban on stadium smoking, the group noted to A’s management and Major League Baseball that it wants its support in banning smoking in Nevada casinos.

The Berkeley-based organization went up the road to Oakland seeking support if and when the A’s decide to plant roots in Southern Nevada.

“MLB has long been a pioneer in major league sports to curb the use of tobacco among players as a way of protecting their health and setting an example for fans of all ages,” Hallett wrote to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

“As it currently stands, only two franchises, the Cardinals and Royals, are located in cities that allow smoking inside of casinos. As you continue your consideration of Las Vegas or other cities as new home cities for the Athletics or other MLB teams, we hope you will contribute to creating safe environments in communities that host MLB franchises.”

It remains to be seen whether the A’s will move to Las Vegas or whether they will have any influence on smoking policies if they do.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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