Casinos need to take one more step to protect customers, employees

Casinos need to take one more step to protect customers, employees

  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
May 29, 2020 12:00 AM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports

Casinos about to reopen have an unprecedented opportunity to improve their safety for customers and employees.

Along with the deep cleanings, disinfection procedures, and social distancing standards to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, this is the perfect time for casinos to add one more element to protect against another significant threat to public health.

They should reopen totally smoke-free.

More than 30 casinos and other gaming establishments across the United States already have announced plans to ban smoking when they reopen, according to an unofficial tally by the Americans Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. They are joining about 800 other gaming venues that are already smoke-free because of state or local law or operator choice.

All other casinos should follow their lead.

Slot machine players smoke at a casino in Florida

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened public understanding of the danger posed by even one carrier of a virus that attacks the respiratory system. Like the coronavirus carried on respiratory droplets of those who are infected, secondhand smoke also poses a risk to everyone in its path.

Banning smoking, at least for several weeks after reopening, underscores casino efforts to do everything possible to protect peoples’ health.

Any business that reopens must convince customers they will be as safe as possible. That approach is even more important for facilities that go after discretionary income, which is especially tight for many people now. The competition is for customers’ trust.

The closure of all the country’s commercial and tribal casinos has industry leaders taking elaborate steps to ensure public safety upon reopening. Some of those coincide with the ANR Foundation’s recommended path for implementing a smoking and vaping ban, which include:

Deep cleaning of the property – from carpet to ceiling – and replacement of HVAC filters to remove smoke residue.

Selecting a date the change takes effect – in this case when the casino reopens.

Identifying an area where smokers can go outside to light up. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it’s not a major inconvenience for those who use it.

Explaining the change to employees and customers. Post signs reminding people that they are in a smoke-free facility. Educate the staff on how to deal with customers who have questions or violate the policy.

Some casinos have reopened already, although with fewer slot machines in operation and seating reductions at table games. Dealers and players might wear masks. Buffets might not reopen, and restaurant seating might be cut. Despite all that, people have lined up to get back to gambling.

“They’re going there to play. They’re not going there to smoke,” says Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of the ANR Foundation. “They can smoke elsewhere. People are going (to the casino) because they like that environment.”

That observation is backed up by a study published in the March 2019 “Public Health Reports,” the journal of the U.S. Public Health Service and surgeon general’s office. The survey, done in 2017, is believed to be the first focusing specifically on smoke-free casinos.

The peer-reviewed report says a nationwide survey found that overall, 75 percent of American adults favor smoke-free casinos. The study broke down responses into several categories – by age, race/ethnicity, education, income, frequency of casino visits, census region, smoking status (smokers/ex-smokers/nonsmokers), people who live with a smoker, and use of other tobacco products.

With one exception, a strong majority of each subgroup supported banning smoking in casinos.

Current smokers were the only segment in which a majority did not support a ban: 54.6 percent were opposed and 45.4 percent in favor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking among U.S. adults has fallen consistently for several years, to 13.7 percent in 2018. The Public Health Reports article notes that several studies have found the smoking rate among casino patrons is similar to that among adults overall.

Look at the numbers another way: Casinos that allow smoking are catering to about 14 of every 100 customers while permitting the health of the other 86 customers – and all employees – to be endangered without their consent. And six of those 14 smokers would support a ban.

While a smoking ban protects customers, it helps employees even more. A blog post by Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist, and professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, noted this equation when talking about the coronavirus risk: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time.

That also applies to the carcinogens in secondhand smoke, making dealers and other casino floor workers subject to increased risk on each shift.

Casino backers have rightly argued for years that they provide good-paying jobs to thousands of people. Yet floor workers are denied the smoke-free air enjoyed by employees in most other industries, including areas of their own casino.

The American Gaming Association found that nearly 90 percent of U.S. residents view gaming as acceptable entertainment, and 35 percent say they visited a casino the past year. Casinos have evolved into major employers and a vital entertainment industry throughout the country. They should not be exempted from the anti-smoking laws that apply to virtually every other business.

As horrible as the COVID-19 pandemic has been and will continue to be, the ordeal should remind us about the importance of protecting ourselves and others from easily avoidable risks.

Casinos have the chance to do that by banning smoking now.

Mark Gruetze is a Pennsylvania-based freelance journalist and frequent contributor to CDC Gaming Reports

Mark Gruetze is a veteran journalist from suburban Pittsburgh who covers casino gaming issues and personalities.