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Commentary: How One Resort Casino is Betting on Smoke-free Gaming

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A new resort casino in Atlantic City is creating a buzz, but not because it is the first new casino along the Jersey shore in nearly a decade or because the new property promises views of the Atlantic Ocean from the casino floor. What has many people interested in the Revel hotel and casino, which hosts its official opening Memorial Day weekend, is that it offers Atlantic City’s only smoke-free gaming floor.

Depending on your point of view, this $2.4 billion casino is either at the tip of the curve in smoke-free gaming or it is destined to come crashing down like a wave at high tide. Most casinos in Atlantic City permit smoking on one-fourth of the gaming floor, a rule passed by the city council in 2008, so the Revel going voluntarily smoke free stands out in uncharted waters.

The Revel is not the first smoke-free casino in the United States. It is estimated that 12 percent of commercial casinos are smoke free, and not all of them are in the 27 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have enacted smoke-free gaming laws. However, the vast majority of casinos in this country, including tribal casinos, allow smoking on the floors where dealers deal and patrons bet.

Those who favor the status quo make the case that smoking and gambling go hand-in-hand. They also say that smoking restrictions hurt business and result in a drop in revenues. Advocates of smoke-free gaming refute those claims based on a systematic review of studies on the economic impact of smoke-free policies in the hospitality industry that report that such laws have no negative impact. Advocates also counter with studies that show only one in five casino patrons are smokers. They also tout that many consumers, about 70 percent, support smoking bans in casinos.

Of little comfort to the majority of casino patrons who do not smoke is the growing body of research on air quality in casinos. Studies consistently find dangerous levels of secondhand smoke in casinos where smoking is permitted. Secondhand smoke is a proven public health hazard and is classified as a Group A carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among non-smoking adults. It has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and can cause coronary heart disease.

One study published last year in the journal Environmental Research found that the particulate air pollution was 10 times higher in casinos where smoking was permitted than in smoke-free venues. That study’s authors and others, including the federal institute responsible for preventing workplace injuries and illness, report that neither air ventilation systems nor partial non-smoking sections adjacent to smoke-filled casino floors provide a measure of protection. The only way to eliminate the hazard of secondhand smoke, according to experts, is to create 100 percent smoke-free environments.

Of course, it is not only the casino customers who breathe in what is exhaled by cigarette smokers. Bar and gaming employees, such as dealers and waitresses who do not smoke, but spend most of their eight-hour shifts in smoke-filled environments, have been documented to have high levels of cotinine (metabolized nicotine) in their bodies. Longtime casino workers have been diagnosed with tobacco-related illnesses including lung cancer, heart disease and asthma. Such illnesses are said to be a result of working on smoky casino floors. Some casino employees have spoken out or organized efforts to raise awareness about the issue and to improve their working environments. A few have sued their employers. The outcome of one such suit filed against a New Jersey casino several years ago was a $4.5 million settlement for a 26-year casino worker who never smoked, but was diagnosed with and survived lung cancer. Today he works at a smoke-free casino in neighboring Delaware.

Back in Atlantic City, this summer begins an organic experiment in the nation’s second largest home for gaming where the Revel becomes the area’s twelfth casino, but the only one with a smoke-free gaming floor. While its success and ultimately its financial performance will be the result of many factors, this resort casino without a doubt will be watched closely –possibly from as far away as Las Vegas– for its smoke-free bet. Time will tell if it will be the beginning of a winning streak for smoke-free gaming, but it is clear – and not just in the air – that its customers and employees already can be counted among the winners – at least when it comes to their health.

William Furmanski, Senior Vice President
Collaboration & Outreach
Legacy®

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