St. Louis County is considering implementing a smoking ban for casinos. Should the measure pass, St Louis would become the first county in Missouri to prohibit smoking on casino floors. At a council committee meeting held on Tuesday, county health department Director Dr. Kanika Cunningham said casino workers and customers are at great risk of developing lung and heart diseases because of the second-hand smoke they inhale. She added that it is impossible to achieve smoke-free air even if a partial smoking restriction is imposed.
The Smoking Ban Attracts Many Proponents, Claiming That Second-Hand Smoke Poses Serious Health Risks
Casinos in St. Louis County have been exempted from the indoor smoking ban since 2011, when it was implemented. This exception has been considered a serious health concern for both customers and employers, according to Dr. Kanika Cunningham, the county health department Director.
At a council committee meeting, Cunningham explained that casino ventilation systems could reduce the smell of cigarettes but not eliminate it. She noted that as of 2020, 15% of the people residing in St. Louis County smoked, while the average on a nationwide level was 11%. In Cunningham’s view, a partial smoking ban would not reduce the level of dangerous exposure.
Councilman Dennis Hancock, a Republican from Fenton, voiced his concerns that a smoking ban would lead to customers going to casinos in neighboring counties where smoking is not banned. He explained that smoking is allowed in all casinos in Missouri but is prohibited in all gambling venues in Illinois.
Cunningham cited a 2022 report from a gaming consulting firm, according to which smoking bans do not affect businesses’ revenues. Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming revealed that smoke-free gambling establishments did not experience any decline in revenues. The study mainly focuses on tribal-owned casinos, which implemented smoke-free policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of 2020, over 160 gambling establishments operated by American Indian tribes banned smoking on casino floors.
Akhila Swarna, a senior at Marquette High School in Chesterfield, also supported the ban, explaining that there is no healthy level of second-hand smoke. She added that 76 businesses in St. Louis County are currently exempted from the indoor smoking ban, and the council should end that exemption to protect Americans’ health.
A Smoking Ban Could Potentially Put St. Louis County’s Casinos in Competitive Disadvantage
But Michael Jerlecki, general manager and vice president of Hollywood Casino in Maryland Heights, said that the health department selected this particular study because it favors their stance. At the meeting, Jerlecki told council members that a total ban on smoking would make casinos in St. Louis County less competitive compared to other gambling establishments in Missouri, which allow indoor smoking.
Last year, the two St. Louis County casinos employed roughly 1,400 people and generated $145 million in tax revenue. According to Jerlecki, a smoking ban would threaten hundreds of well-paid jobs and affect tax revenue. In 2018, St. Louis County approved a ballot measure to limit smoking in casinos. Although the measure was reversed two years later, Hollywood and River City casinos decided to keep half of the gaming floors smoke-free to cater to the preferences of all customers.