Indiana Casino Must Ban Smoking

In a 3-2 vote, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed Evansville's smoking ban that exempted the Tropicana riverboat casino. The majority said the casino exemption violated the state's Equal Privileges clause. Dissenting justices claimed Evansville could lose more than $4.3 million in tax revenue and $6.3 million in casino employee wages.

Smokers must go outside or to designated areas at the Tropicana Evansville riverboat casino—the establishment is no longer exempt from the Indiana city’s smoking ban under a recent ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court. In a 3-2 vote, the justices determined the casino exemption violated the Indiana Constitution’s Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause, reversing an appeals court ruling that upheld the casino exemption.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote that granting the casino an exemption was “tantamount to the government selling exemption for the bonus of anticipated financial benefits.” Justice Loretta Rush in the dissenting opinion wrote that the casino had “inherent characteristics” that set it apart from other local businesses, including: most of its customers come from out of town; and that Evansville could lose more than $4.3 million in tax revenue and $6.3 million in casino employee wages. Justice Robert Rucker agreed.

The ruling reinstates the city’s 2006 smoking ban that prohibited smoking in workplaces and other public places but exempted bars, private clubs and riverboats. Later the ban was amended to include taverns and clubs. In 2012 the city’s smoking ordinance was amended to prohibit smoking in every Evansville business except the Tropicana. Tavern owners and private club organizers argued that the new law was unfair to their businesses.

Evansville City Council President John Friend said, “I’m surprised. The only thing we can do is step back, regroup and see what the options are.”

Mayor Lloyd Winnecke stated, “The legislation was designed to protect the health and safety of Evansville residents, not to create the so-called unequal treatment between bars, taverns, private clubs and the riverboat casino.”

The Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission said establishments that now are no longer exempt from the smoking law still must follow the state smoking law. That law requires businesses to post signs and file for exemptions with the Indiana Excise Police.