Advocacy Group Objects to COVID-19 Relief for US Casinos Unless They Go Smoke-Free

  • Letter from ANR urges the AGA to exclude smoking casinos from potential federal support
  • It advises AGA CEO Miller to use his leadership position to push “smart policy” among members
  • Group remarked that some smoke-free states have experienced gambling revenue increases
man in suit smoking cigar while at a gambling table
A national nonsmokers’ lobbying body has written to the CEO of the AGA, urging him to adopt a policy that would exclude casinos that allow smoking from receiving any potential federal COVID-19 relief. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

ANR says smoking promotes COVID-19 spread

Advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) has sent a letter to American Gaming Association (AGA) President and CEO Bill Miller, urging him to adopt a policy that excludes casinos that allow smoking from receiving any potential federal COVID-19 relief.

The gaming industry’s national trade association received the two-page letter, dated December 3, on the eve of its semi-annual board meeting. The AGA would not comment on the letter at the time of this writing.

Smokefree Casinos, an ANR Foundation educational project, tweeted an excerpt from the letter, signed by ANR CEO Cynthia Hallett and stating that indoor smoking “promotes the spread of COVID-19”:

In her communication, Hallett advised Miller to “only accept taxpayer dollars […] if casino operators agree to adopt a smoke-free indoor policy that would help to keep employees and guests safe.”

The Berkeley, California-based ANR also shared the letter with the Congressional Gaming Caucus and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin.

Casinos clearing the air

In the letter to Miller, the nonprofit lobbying organization wrote that the AGA head should use his “leadership position to make the argument to your members about why smoke-free indoors is a smart policy.” The ANR did not question the gambling industry’s need for tax relief due to pandemic closures and resulting financial setbacks.

AGA head should use his “leadership position to make the argument”

In October, Miller issued a ‘State of the Casinos’ online speech at the G2E 2020 conference, calling for urgent additional tax and regulatory relief from Congress for the gaming industry in light of the pandemic. He requested potential federal COVID-19 financial aid for casinos and their employees, plus tax relief to help save gaming industry jobs, ease pandemic expenses, and boost tourism and travel.

According to a September report by the ANR Foundation, there are around 964 casinos and gambling facilities nationwide that ensure that their indoor air is 100% smoke-free. The foundation said that of this total, at least 789 practiced such policies from before the pandemic outbreak. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, current COVID-19 state guidelines that are in place also prohibit smoking at casino venues.

Smoke-free successes observed

A stark exception to the rising trend for smoke-free casinos is Nevada, the US’s largest gambling state. In September, however, MGM Resorts International reopened Park MGM as a fully non-smoking property – the first major Las Vegas resort to make such a move.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Nevada Resort Association said its 70+ members are already abiding by state laws on clean indoor air.

In her letter to Miller, Hallett hailed Park MGM’s recent decision to ban smoking. She said casinos that are worried about their revenue taking a hit from banning smoking need only look at successful operations in other states.

Industry arguments against going smoke-free have grown stale”

Hallet also noted annual revenue growth in states such as Maryland and Ohio, which have adopted permanent smoke-free policies. “Industry arguments against going smoke-free have grown stale and do not withstand scrutiny,” she remarked.