Casino events

Rhode Island casino workers urge lawmakers to ban smoking

Smoking was banned at Rhode Island’s two casinos for most of the pandemic, and now casino workers want state lawmakers to make the ban permanent.

A bill is pending in the Legislature to repeal the exemption given to casinos in state law that prohibits smoking in public places. Casino workers at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino and Bally’s Tiverton Casino and Hotel planned to go to the State House on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to move forward with the bill, which has been held up for further study.

Patti Doyle, spokeswoman for the two casinos, said Wednesday that Bally’s Corporation would address any concerns about staff at the negotiating table. She said they had concerns about the legislative proposal and were already making accommodations for non-smokers.

In New Jersey, dealers in Atlantic City have been pushing lawmakers to ban smoking in casinos for two years. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he would sign a bill banning smoking at Atlantic City’s nine casinos if the legislature passes it.

The chairman of global casino and entertainment company Hard Rock said on Monday he recently spoke with Murphy about the “economic challenges” of banning smoking in casinos.

Vanessa Baker, 57, said she oversaw the table games at Rhode Island’s Tiverton Casino and noticed her health improved dramatically when smoking was not permitted due to the indoor mask mandate of State. When the warrant was lifted and smoking returned in March, Baker said she soon began coughing, having headaches and having significantly less energy, which she attributes to the smoke secondary.

“In one week, I saw my life deteriorate,” she said on Wednesday.

The American Cancer Society Action Network, casino licensees and union representatives submitted testimony in support of the bill for a hearing in April. Democratic Representative Teresa Tanzi sponsored the bill this year and similar legislation that stalled last year. She said Wednesday there was far too much information about second-hand smoke to continue to allow smoking in casinos.

“I sincerely believe it’s cruel,” she said. “They had two years of a smoke-free workplace. And just being sent back to a smoking environment like that without any consideration of the health implications for the workers only compounds the insult to the injury they suffer.

Tanzi said his proposal could be passed as part of the state budget.

Doyle said employees can request to work in non-smoking areas of casinos, smoking is no longer permitted while seated at the gaming table, and casinos have advanced ventilation systems. She said smoking was brought back after the indoor mask requirement was lifted because casinos had long welcomed both smoking and non-smoking customers and customers seemed to appreciate the policy.

“We have resumed welcoming both smoking and non-smoking guests, with guardrails in place,” she said.

Baker said everyone, from bartenders and cleaners to security guards, electricians and slot machine attendants, wanted people to quit smoking, to ensure a healthy workplace. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While table game patrons are encouraged to move to the perimeter to smoke, Baker said casino employees are exposed to second-hand smoke throughout the building.

“They still smoke at the bar, they still smoke at the slot machines,” she said. “We’re all still breathing it. It’s horrible.”