Casino worker Tammy Brady, a 56-year-old dealer and supervisor at Borgata in Atlantic City, discovered a lump in her breast in February 2022, leading to a cancer diagnosis, with health issues attributed to decades of working in smoky casinos.
The debate over smoking in casinos has gained traction, with advocates for smoking bans facing resistance from some industry leaders who argue that such bans may drive gamblers away.
Despite a decline in smoking rates across the United States, several casinos continue to permit indoor smoking.
While smoking is banned in at least some public spaces in 35 states, 13 of the 22 states and territories allowing casino gambling still permit smoking in certain areas.
Anti-smoking advocates and public health experts argue that it is time to eliminate casino exemptions from smoking bans due to the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited the debate, highlighting the risks associated with particulate matter for anti-smoking advocates and the vulnerability of casino revenues.
Some casino executives, backed by a 2021 report commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey, argue that smoking bans could lead to job losses and substantial declines in tax revenue.
The report suggests that up to 2,500 Atlantic City casino workers could lose their jobs, with tax revenue potentially dropping by $44 million in the first year if smoking is banned in New Jersey but not in neighboring Pennsylvania.
However, critics, including social media influencer Brian Christopher, dismiss the argument that smoking bans impact business, stating that patrons do not travel to casinos specifically for a cigarette.
Despite record-breaking revenues in 2022 for in-person casino gambling, the industry remains divided on the issue.
The debate extends beyond economic concerns, as health experts stress the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Filtration systems in casinos may remove visible smoke and odor, but they do not eliminate harmful particulates, as noted in a 2023 report from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
Dangers of Indoor Smoking in Casino
Studies have shown elevated nicotine levels among workers in ventilated casinos where indoor smoking is allowed, raising health concerns.
The National Institutes of Health published a study in 2023 comparing particulate matter levels at Las Vegas casinos that allow smoking and those that did not.
Casinos permitting smoking showed significantly higher particulate levels, even in designated nonsmoking areas, reinforcing the health risks associated with secondhand smoke.
While more than 1,000 US casinos have implemented smoking bans, opposition to restrictions persists. Some locales, such as Shreveport, Louisiana, have repealed smoking bans in response to claims of decreased gambling taxes.
In Missouri, efforts to close a casino loophole in a 2011 indoor smoking ban were met with resistance from gambling companies, leading to compromises allowing smoking on portions of casino floors.
Advocates for smoking bans argue that secondhand smoke poses serious health risks, including coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and potentially breast cancer.
The pandemic has heightened awareness of airborne particulates, giving momentum to the push for smoking bans in casinos.
While the industry-commissioned report on New Jersey suggests potential economic risks, some tribal casinos have successfully maintained smoking bans, reporting improved employee health and cost savings.
Critics argue that casino executives opposing smoking restrictions overlook potential patrons who avoid casinos due to smoke, impacting the industry’s overall appeal.
As the debate continues, Brady, now cancer-free after extensive treatment, urges policymakers to prioritize health over tax revenues.
Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects is an advocacy group whose mission is to educate the public about the dangers of smoking in casinos. The group stresses the importance of comprehensive smoking prohibitions as a means of safeguarding both casino employees and patrons.