Pa. casinos not budging on smoking ban

April 24, 2008 6:31:39 PM PDT
What happens in Atlantic City, including a ban on smoking inside casinos, may stay there. Pennsylvania casinos that have actively opposed a statewide ban on smoking at their properties said Thursday they are not budging from their stance, regardless of a pending law in New Jersey's gambling mecca.

With lobbyists and legislators dug in on both sides of the debate in Pennsylvania, it remained unclear whether a smoking ban in Atlantic City will change minds here.

"I guess it has the potential to," said Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, one of six legislators on a House-Senate conference committee that is tasked with crafting a compromise bill. "The question comes down to whether we can do a total ban in casinos and get the votes in both houses."

Progress on an indoor smoking ban in Pennsylvania has been stuck since July, when the Senate rejected a tougher ban approved by the House.

Bills passed by the House and Senate would ban smoking in most public places and workplaces, including arenas, stores, restaurants and convention halls. But the Senate proposal allows full or partial exceptions for more establishments, including a quarter of casino gambling floors.

The House bill carried no exemption for casinos, and the prime sponsor of that bill, Rep. Mike Gerber, D-Montgomery, said he saw no reason why the House will accept one now.

"My colleagues aren't going for it and now, with Atlantic City doing what it did, they're really not going for it," Gerber said.

Under pressure from casino employees, Atlantic City Council voted 9-0 on Wednesday to close a loophole in a statewide ban on smoking in public buildings that had exempted gambling halls.

Gamblers still will be able to light up in unstaffed smoking lounges away from the table games and slot machines - if the 11 individual casinos choose to build them. The ban takes effect Oct.

15.

But casino owners in Pennsylvania say they will suffer from a smoking ban, regardless. Even if gamblers cannot light up in a casino in a bordering state, they will simply stay home or gamble less, casino officials said.

To reinforce that theory, Penn National Gaming Inc. says revenues are down 20 percent at its properties in Colorado and Illinois since smoking bans at casinos took effect Jan. 1 in those states.

Also, Philadelphia Park Racetrack & Casino in Bensalem and Penn National, which owns Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg, say the slot machines in sections set aside for nonsmokers are not as busy as machines in smoking sections.

"If those machines were doing better than the smoking area, we're business people, we'd expand the nonsmoking area," said Richard J. Gmerek, a lobbyist for Philadelphia Park.

The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in suburban Pittsburgh fears a smoking ban will send its customers to two casinos in West Virginia that are a short drive away, said spokesman David La Torre.

"What happens in Atlantic City has no bearing whatsoever on The Meadows," he said.


Load Comments