Pennsylvania Casino Smoking Bill Continues to Linger in State Capitol

Legislation in Pennsylvania that seeks to close the indoor smoking loophole afforded to casinos and certain other businesses passed a House committee last November. Five months later, the measure still hasn’t been acted on by the full House of Representatives.

Efforts to extinguish casino smoking in Pennsylvania continue to drag slowly in the Harrisburg State Capitol. The lawmaker leading the push says there isn’t yet enough support for the measure to clear the state House of Representatives. (Image: iStock)

The Pennsylvania Health Committee signed off on House Bill 1657 on November 15. Known as the Protecting Workers From Secondhand Smoke Act, the statute was authored by state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), a longtime advocate of banning indoor tobacco use to protect employee health.

Frankel’s HB 1657 was initially scheduled for review in the House chamber this week, but the item was pulled from the agenda after the lawmaker said more time was needed to rally up support. Legislative efforts to extinguish casino smoking inside Atlantic City casinos seem unlikely anytime soon, though a lawsuit filed this month seeks to prohibit tobacco use at the nine New Jersey casinos through a court order.

Pennsylvania lawmakers representing casinos in Philadelphia are concerned that a smoking ban would result in some gamblers taking their business an hour east to Atlantic City.

Smoking Stalemate

Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act passed in 2008 provided an exception for casinos that allows brick-and-mortar businesses to allocate up to 25% of their gaming floor space for tobacco use. Of the 17 casinos in the commonwealth, only two, Parx Casino in Bensalem and Parx Casino Shippensburg, don’t take advantage of the smoking allowance.

However, Parx is the richest casino of the bunch. The casino located just north of Philadelphia won $588.2 million last year to easily best runner-up Wind Creek Bethlehem at $526.3 million. Frankel reasons that Parx’s performance shows smoking bans are good — not bad — for gaming businesses.

It’s preposterous to argue that smoking bans are bad for business when Pennsylvania’s most successful casino is voluntarily smoke-free,” Frankel said last fall after his bill cleared the Health Committee.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that smoke-free environments attract more customers, not fewer,” Frankel added. “Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between their jobs and their health. This legislation is not just good for health — it’s also good for business.”

Industry Claims

Commercial gaming lobbyists continue to tell lawmakers that smoking bans hurt business. In Atlantic City, the Casino Association of New Jersey commissioned a study that concluded a smoking ban would reduce annual gaming revenues by as much as 25%, critical income that would lead to significant layoffs and possibly casino closures.

In Pennsylvania, some analysts believe Parx has become the richest casino because it attracts much of the nonsmoking crowd. If a smoking ban was instituted statewide, that demographic would be divvied up among the Philly casinos, including Live!, Harrah’s, Rivers, and Valley Forge. Smokers would travel to Atlantic City and the ban would therefore result in a net loss.

According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, state casinos employ about 14,800 people at their brick-and-mortar properties. Casino taxes support an array of programs, including property tax reductions, agricultural support, the horse racing industry, community grants, and economic development.

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