Rivers Philadelphia voluntarily bans smoking on gaming floor

May 2, 2022 8:08 PM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
May 2, 2022 8:08 PM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports

Rivers Casino Philadelphia, the number-three-performing casino in Pennsylvania, voluntarily ended smoking on its gaming floor. It took effect on April 29.

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It joins Parx Casino, also in Philadelphia, and Mount Airy Casino in northeast Pennsylvania in banning smoking in the casino. While state law forbids smoking in most workplaces and businesses open to the public, casinos may allow it on up to half of the gaming floor.

The change happened with no problems, a Rivers spokesperson said.

“Rivers Casino Philadelphia has decided to continue prohibiting indoor smoking for now,” said Jack Horner of Horner Communications, which handles communications for Rivers casinos in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “An outdoor patio has been designated for smokers and guests have complied without issue. Rivers Casino Philadelphia will continue to monitor feedback, which has been positive. Rivers Casino Pittsburgh continues to defer to the commonwealth and the (Gaming Control Board) with regard to smoking policies at casinos in Pennsylvania.”

The change comes as New Jersey lawmakers consider a bill to ban smoking on Atlantic City gaming floors. Philadelphia is about an hour’s drive from Atlantic City and the Casino Association of New Jersey has argued that a New Jersey ban would send players across the border. The United Auto Workers, which represents workers at Caesars, Bally’s, and Tropicana in Atlantic City, has pushed for a casino smoking ban, as has the Atlantic City organization Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (harmful) Effects. Both cite the health dangers of secondhand smoke.

An April 28 letter from Michael Grisar, vice president of operations for Rivers Philadelphia, to casino employees said, “Smoking will not be permitted indoors in any locations of the property.” The letter also said the outdoor patio for Jack’s Bar would be converted to a guest-only smoking area, open during the bar’s regular operating hours and subject to weather conditions. Other outdoor smoking areas are near the casino’s north and south entrance doors. Smokers using the bar patio do not have to go through security when returning to the casino floor.

Pennsylvania has 16 casinos, including three “satellite” operations allowed to have 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 30 table games. Two satellite casinos opened in 2021.

Although the state’s no-smoking law has an exemption for gaming floors, smoking is banned in casino offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, and meeting rooms.

Smoking was banned throughout Pennsylvania gaming floors for about a year during the depths of the pandemic. Rivers Philadelphia was smoke-free for several additional weeks because of a Philadelphia Health Department mask mandate.

Parx and Rivers Philadelphia ranked numbers two and three in the state in total casino revenue for March, according to Gaming Control Board figures. Parx had $60.5 million in total gaming revenue, including $55.6 million from in-person slot and table game play. Rivers Philadelphia posted $54.5 million in total revenue, with $22.7 million coming from in-person slots and tables. Hollywood at Penn National, near Harrisburg, ranked number one, with $63.7 million total gaming revenue. However, only $17.1 million of that came from in-person slots and tables, with the rest coming from online operations.

Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said the Rivers Philadelphia smoking ban increases the pressure on New Jersey to follow suit.

“It’s becoming harder and harder for Atlantic City casinos to defend indoor smoking that threatens the health of their employees,” she said. “Rivers Casino Philly joins Parx Casino and casinos in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Connecticut in not permitting indoor smoking. It’s past time for Atlantic City casinos to end this outdated business practice and instead benefit from the guests who would visit their properties were it not for the smoke.”

The smoking bans at Parx and Mount Airy appear to have had little, if any, effect on in-person gaming revenue. Both posted higher revenue from in-person slot and table play for the first quarter this year than in the pre-COVID first quarter of 2019.