An official at the CDC said this week that more casinos going smoke-free is a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Brian King, the deputy director for research in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said more than 200 commercial and tribal casinos have reopened as smoke-free facilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in smoke-free casino adoption, which is certainly a silver lining in the context of the pandemic,” King said.
When commercial casinos in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania were allowed to reopen last summer, state officials required that smoking be prohibited for the time being. Pennsylvania and New Jersey respectively rank second and third behind only Nevada in terms of gross gaming revenue generated by their casinos.
Prior to the pandemic, up to 50 percent of a Pennsylvania casino floor, and 25 percent of an Atlantic City casino space, could be allocated for smoking.
While Nevada casinos continue to permit smoking, gaming venues in other states have followed New Jersey and Pennsylvania in banning indoor tobacco consumption. Native American tribes, which do not have to abide by state orders, have also made many of their tribal casinos smoke-free.
According to a list maintained by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), there are hundreds of casinos currently operating smoke-free, or having sections where gamblers can play without smoke. The list can be accessed here.
“We celebrate the announcements we are seeing on social media and in the news that a wide range of hospitality and gaming venues intend to reopen their doors with smoke-free indoor air policies,” the ANR said in 2020. “We especially want to acknowledge the strong leadership from sovereign tribes to reopen many casinos as smoke-free venues for the safety and well-being of staff and customers.”
Dr. King says the positive impacts of more smoke-free casinos has the potential to go beyond combatting the coronavirus.
“It’s definitely a public health win and shows an added benefit of not only protecting workers but also patrons,” King explained. “If all these casinos remain smoke-free post-COVID-19, this could have an immeasurable impact in terms of not only protecting the public who attend these venues, but also workers who are working eight hours or more per day in these environments,” King concluded.
But Gamblers Enjoy Smoking
Smoke prevalence among US adults has declined dramatically over the decades. The CDC says 14 percent of US adults aged 18 years or older currently smoke cigarettes. That equates to an estimated 34.1 million Americans who are considered to be smokers.
While the vast majority of the US population are no longer smokers, in casinos they represent a larger share of the demographic.
Certainly, there is a perception that smokers are very serious gamblers, and I think that definitely factors into this perception that people who smoke, while numerically they’re a minority of the customer base, they might generate a lot more of the casino revenue,” explained David Schwartz, a gaming historian and former UNLV professor.
It’s why Schwartz believes smoking will return indoors to many casinos that are currently smoke-free.
“Historically, casino operators have been loath to limit smoking since there is a positive correlation between smoking and gambling,” he said.
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