Last year at Global Gaming Expo (G2E), Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen told attendees, “Success means being better listeners to employees.” It seems that doesn’t apply, however, when it comes to one issue: protecting employees’ health by ending indoor smoking.
Casino workers have literally been marching in the streets to end indoor smoking and protect their health at their workplaces, yet casino executives are deaf to workers’ pleas. And now they’re trying to stifle any discussion of the issue.
Over the next few weeks, the casino industry will hold two of its biggest annual gatherings – East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC) in Atlantic City and G2E in Las Vegas. These two events purport to focus on the most pressing issues facing the gaming industry. Yet somehow, the topic of indoor smoking is completely missing, even as the issue has generated headline after headline from Rhode Island and Atlantic City to Navajo Nation and as nearly half of all states now require casinos to operate smokefree indoors.
ECGC organizers planned to have a panel discussion on the topic before the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) abruptly backed out of the session. CANJ’s Mark Giannantonio was set to participate with Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing (which owns the voluntarily smokefree PARX Casino) and myself on a panel shortly after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a supporter of ending indoor smoking, delivered the keynote address.
It’s remarkably telling that Atlantic City casinos couldn’t find one person to publicly defend their position in favor of indoor smoking. Instead of engaging in a serious fact-based discussion about indoor smoking, these casino executives are avoiding the issue. They know that they cannot win on the facts; even their economic arguments have been thoroughly rebutted. So they are eschewing public discussion. And they’re on the precipice of losing this fight in the legislature, as more than half of New Jersey legislators are co-sponsoring bipartisan bills to close the casino smoking loophole.
It’s also illogical that ECGC organizers chose to cancel the Atlantic City panel because they couldn’t find someone to defend indoor smoking. They would never have canceled a forum on responsible gaming because they couldn’t find an opposing voice or on sports betting because they couldn’t find panelists who oppose expansion.
G2E will also lack any formal sessions focused on indoor smoking, even after casino workers drew significant media attention at last year’s show urging the industry to stop ignoring their concerns.
To be clear, many in the industry are eager for conversations about indoor smoking. The Indian Gaming Association has hosted public discussions at its annual conference for two years running. Navajo Nation passed legislation at the end of last year that made their four casinos smokefree indoors. Tribal casinos have been leaders in ending indoor smoking and protecting their employees from dangerous secondhand smoke; approximately 160 tribal casinos have adopted 100% smokefree indoor air policies.
Too many, though, continue to employ sky-is-falling scare tactics about jobs and revenues that contradict independent analysis of competitive casino markets where that just didn’t happen. Respected Las Vegas-based researchers C3 Gaming released a report this summer analyzing revenue performance in several competitive casino markets. “Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue. In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”
Some in the industry also make claims about solutions that may sound nice on paper, but don’t actually keep workers and guests safe from secondhand smoke. Allegations by casinos that their advanced ventilation systems solve the problem have been rebutted by the very engineering experts who design those systems.
In fact, these engineers, who collectively make up the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), were so alarmed by public comments from the Nevada Resort Association and the CANJ that they’ve pushed back on them. “[Ventilation systems] are not effective against secondhand smoke” and “can reduce only odor and discomfort, but cannot eliminate exposure,” they wrote to casino executives. “There is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air-cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of [environmental tobacco smoke] to an acceptable level.”
If some in the industry think dodging the conversation on an issue that matters to their employees will make it go away, they are wrong. We are disappointed that the urgent discussion of ending indoor smoking will be missing from the formal programs of ECGC and G2E, but rest assured, the presence of casino workers who have been fighting for their health will be felt at both events.
Cynthia Hallett, MPH, is the President and CEO of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CDC Gaming Reports.