West Virginia Casino Could Go Smokeless

The Hancock County, Pennsylvania Health Board has proposed banning smoking in businesses including casinos. MTR Gaming President Joseph Billhimer said that means Mountaineer Casino could lose revenue and jobs. However, research indicates gamblers are just as likely, or not, to smoke as any other adults.

A public hearing will be held July 23 to consider the Hancock County, Pennsylvania Health Board’s proposed Clean Air Regulation of 2014, which specifically mentions casinos in its proposal to ban smoking in all workplaces, businesses open to the public and outdoor public places including parks, playgrounds and sports facilities. The proposal states: “Where the need to breathe smoke-free air conflicts with the desire to smoke, the need to breathe smoke-free air shall have priority.” The board may vote on the new rules on August 26.
?Mountaineer Casino is located in Hancock County. MTR Gaming President Joseph Billhimer said a total ban on smoking would lower revenues due to reduced play, bring in less taxes from the county’s top taxpayer and result in fewer casino jobs. Instead, Billhimer suggested limiting nonsmoking areas to 10 percent of the casino floor and 20 percent of hotel rooms, with a ban on smoking in the resort’s public areas, such as restaurants, lobbies, common trackside areas and entertainment venues. Billhimer noted Mountaineer has spent $900,000 in the past two years on air-cleaning systems. “We stand ready to work with the Board of Health for a solution that helps protect the revenue, the taxes and the jobs in Hancock County,” he said.

Linda Holmstrand, regional tobacco-prevention coordinator for the American Lung Association, said Hancock County’s proposal is “comprehensive” legislation that protects workers and customers in casinos and many other establishments. “Most people don’t smoke. Maybe their business will improve. We know anecdotally from people in Hancock County and surrounding areas that they wish there were places that didn’t have smoking so they can frequent them,” Holmstrand said. ?
In 2012, the smoking rate among adults was 18.1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study done by the University of Nevada in 2006, when the smoking rate was 20.9 percent, indicated the percentage of smokers was similar to that, despite claims that gamblers are more inclined to smoke.

Billhimer said Mardi Gras Casino in Kanawha County, West Virginia is subject to a smoking ban. The casino has seen a drop in play, he said. But supporters of the smoking ban said there’s no proof the ban caused the decline in play. More likely, they said, the casino has been losing customers to competitors in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
?More than 500 casinos across the U.S. are smoke-free, said Deb Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. She said state legislators have not yet acted on a proposal to extend the state’s smoking ban to casinos. “It’s not like this is groundbreaking legislation.” Many casino operators in Pennsylvania operate casinos in smoke-free states,” she said.