Connecticut legislators are weighing the enactment of a partial smoking ban in tribal casinos alongside recent studies that say smoking bans can lead to significant declines in revenue, The Day reported Feb. 22.
In Connecticut, the Indian tribe owners of casinos understand the dangers of secondhand smoke but contend that government regulations — like a full smoking ban — pose a threat to their sovereignty. Anti-smoking advocates, however, remain unmoved by the argument. “We call it the 'shield of sovereignty.' It's really about the money. It's always about the money,” said Stephanie Steinberg, chairwoman of Smoke-Free Gaming in Colorado.
Casino analysts maintain that full smoking bans dramatically diminish gaming revenues. “They've had a pretty dramatic effect on revenues wherever they've been imposed,” said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada-Reno. “It's about a 15 percent decline (in revenues) the first year and an additional 5 percent the second year.”
An outright smoking ban on the 11 casinos in Atlantic City led to such a dramatic decline in casino business that within two weeks the city council voted to return to a partial ban. In Illinois, a ban on smoking in workplaces drastically reduced gaming revenues at the state's nine riverboat casinos, resulting in $177 million less in state taxes.
In Connecticut, the Mohegan Tribe reached an unofficial agreement with Gov. M. Jodi Rell to prohibit smoking in at least 20 percent of their Mohegan Sun casino's gaming areas and to install equipment to direct secondhand smoke up into the casino's ventilation system. In addition, the tribe agreed to assign employees with respiratory or other health issues to nonsmoking areas.
This agreement has been incorporated into new legislation being backed by southeastern Connecticut legislators that would bring the Mashantucket Pequots in line with the unofficial agreement with the Mohegans. As a condition of renewing a liquor permit, it would require that a tribally owned casino “enter into an agreement with the state governing the reduction, removal and monitoring of secondhand smoke in the casino.”
The Connecticut legislature's Public Health Committee will conduct a public hearing on the bill on Feb. 27.