The Death of Me Yet

Why are casinos squandering the chance to ban smoking on the casino floor as the pandemic winds down? Gaming observer Richard Schuetz wonders if executives really care about the health of their employees and customers.

The Death of Me Yet

“Thou shalt not kill.”—A common interpretation of the Fifth Commandment in Christian theology.

I believe I am one of a small group of casino executives who have made an exhausting effort at learning about smoking in casinos. The way I learned about smoking in casinos was that I worked in a casino. This is not all that common for the casino executives of today.

I used to deal cards on a blackjack game starting in the early 1970s while a college student, and during that time there would be a cigarette dispenser on the games providing free cigarettes to all of the players. There were also generally five ashtrays on the game. People would be sitting in front of me, smoking away, exhaling the smoke in my direction, while holding their smoldering cigarettes in front of me.

I also dealt dice, and the players would be exhaling the smoke into the center of the table while I was bent over the layout paying and collecting bets.

I continued my experience with casino smoke as a box person, as a floor person, as a pit boss, as a shift boss, as a casino manager, as a vice president of casino operations, and as a CEO. In all of these positions, inhaling other people’s smoke was a part of my job.

I can also read, and in my reading, I have come to understand that secondhand smoke is a killer. Not kind of a killer, not a potential killer, but a real killer. It shortens lives, damages babies in and out of the womb, does nasty things to the lungs and cardiovascular system, and causes enormous suffering for people. Oh, and it cannot be stopped by enhanced HVAC systems or segregated smoking sections, so please stop telling this lie.

The list of deleterious health outcomes from being exposed to secondhand smoke is serious and long. It is important to point out that these findings came from medical experts and researchers, who published these results without including the opinions of casino executives, casino regulators, and politicians. Possibly we can arrange a panel at the next G2E where the casino executives, regulators, and politicians can debate with the medical community as to the reality of the deaths and related health dangers associated with smoking in casinos.

Another thing that can be discovered by reading is that there is a high degree of co-morbidity between gambling disorders and smoking dependence, to the point where it is realistic to suggest that about 50 percent of people suffering from gambling disorders also smoke. In other words, allowing smoking in casinos is like placing a welcome mat out for problem gamblers.

While many casino executives have possibly not read through the medical journals to understand the degree and nature of this co-morbidity, they certainly understand it in their day-to-day lives and will suggest all types of ruin stands in the future of their operations if they cannot subject their employees to secondhand smoke. They argue if they cannot kill and/or damage the health of their employees and customers, they may need to shut down. And these executives apparently believe it is worth the death and sickness it causes for the employees of the casinos to make sure this co-morbid market segment of problem gamblers is happy.

What all of this means is those wonderful speeches, mission statements, and other communications by the leaders of casinos about their commitment to the employees need to be understood in the context of a conditional commitment. In short, these executives care about the employees, unless it is deemed more profitable to subject their employees to a health-threatening work environment.

Moreover, regulatory agency after regulatory agency forces their employees to work in these dangerous environments, guaranteeing that some of these state and tribal employees will suffer health damage. People get upset when they find that animals are being subjected to hazardous conditions in research studies, but our regulatory agencies have no problem subjecting their own employees to hazardous conditions because, well, it earns the state or tribe more money.

One is probably a fool if they believe the politicians care that their constituents are having their health jeopardized by forcing casino employees to work in a world of secondhand smoke. People who are dying of emphysema do not make large political contributions, but gaming companies do. Maybe some of these politicians could take a break from kissing the industry’s butt for money for a few minutes and stop by a hospital or a hospice and watch a poor ex-casino employee go through the long and painful experience of dying from emphysema.

I believe that if you were to walk up to a so-called casino leader, or a casino regulator, or a politician in a state that allows smoking in casinos and ask them if one could blow smoke in their faces, they would say no. I would guess if you were to ask if one could blow smoke in their spouse’s faces, or their children’s faces—they would also say no. I also believe that if one were to ask to blow smoke in their dog’s face, they would also say no. But none of these people will stop it from happening to their employees or constituents. And why not? Because all of this death and sickness are apparently considered important to generate profits and contributions.

The science about secondhand smoke is very good, and it would be interesting to generate the estimated loss of life associated with a smoking policy within a casino to the executives of that casino. We could develop good analytics as to the stillbirths caused, the lower birth weights, the breathing and cardiovascular challenges, the deaths, and that whole array of terrible things that happens to people who are subjected to secondhand smoke. And then the executives, and the regulators, and the politicians could see the death and health carnage that they allowed to occur during their leadership. They could even list the body count on their resumes as a badge of honor as to the damage they are willing to cause in the name of profits. I am sure that would be a proud day for them all.

So, all you executives, all you regulators, and all you politicians who keep telling the HVAC lie, and the segregated smoking areas lie, and the “we care” about our employees lie, well, actions speak louder than words. You are in it for the money, plain and simple, and if this means people die or suffer…well, stuff happens.

A favorite myth that the leadership of the casino industry likes to tell is that it has cleaned up its image. Folks, our industry often allows smoking, and are you aware this kills people? And those that it does not kill are damaged by the experience. And children often share this casino air. Such death and damage is not a characteristic of an industry that cares about its image. We are so used to cohabitating with the deadly environmental partner of indoor smoking that we have normalized the reality of subjecting our employees to this death and damage for a few dollars more. And we say we have cleaned up our image. Silly people.

I supported my college education by working in casinos. I pursued my college education because I wanted to be a college professor, and toward the end of my graduate studies, I took a teaching position at a college. It paid essentially about one-half of what I was making as a dice dealer, and academia also offered some of the nastiest politics I had ever seen. I have always since argued that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low. Realizing all of this, I then went screaming back into the gambling business.

Twenty years later I was running casinos in Las Vegas. During this time, I made one of my visits to my dear mother, who was living in another state. While there, I met one of her elderly friends. Again, understanding that this conversation took place 20 years after I had left teaching and gone back to the casino business, the woman said to me: “Your mother tells me you are a college professor.”

To those casino executives, regulators, and politicians – get smoking out of the casinos. People will live longer and better lives, and your mothers will not be embarrassed to tell their friends what you do.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.