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Is Nevada facing pressure to ban smoking in casinos?

Updated October 12, 2023 - 12:34 pm

A growing number of casinos outside of Nevada are expanding their non-smoking options or banning smoking all together, experts said Wednesday during a panel at the Global Gaming Expo.

During the first-ever G2E panel on the controversial topic of allowing or banning smoking in casinos, advocates argued that there would be minimal impact to a smoking casino changing its policies. In fact, they could gain new customers.

At Parx Casino in the Philadelphia area, Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oppenheimer said they chose to keep a pandemic-era smoke-free plan that directed smokers to a new outdoor patio in June 2021. Employee morale skyrocketed, he said, and customers made it clear in surveys, too.

“I believe that the pandemic made us more aware and made it much easier for us to make that decision,” Oppenheimer said to a half-filled room of industry professionals. “Yeah we probably did (lose some people to competitors), but I can’t tell you the number of people who said, ‘I used to go to those properties but now I go to Parx because I don’t have to smell smoke.’”

Parx’s gaming revenue wasn’t impacted by the change. Pre-pandemic, it was the top-grossing casino in Pennsylvania and it continues to hold that title.

In Nevada, it may be a harder sell. Only one casino on the Strip is non-smoking – Park MGM made the change in 2020. Some other casinos have brought non-smoking policies and reversed them over the years. The latest effort for a compromise can be seen at downtown Las Vegas’ Plaza hotel-casino, where a 2,500 square-foot non-smoking gaming lounge with a separate entrance from the main casino debuted in June as part of a multimillion-dollar transformation of its Main Street entrance.

Traci Kennedy, Midwest strategist for Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said she hopes Nevada may become more open to non-smoking policies once the concept is proven elsewhere. Advocates and casino workers in New Jersey are working to close a loophole in the state’s smoke-free air act that exempts casinos.

Kennedy’s group believes the bill will be acted on during the lame duck session between November elections and the end of the year.

“What’s happening in Atlantic City is changing the conversation everywhere,” she said after the panel. “Atlantic City is the largest non-Nevada gaming market, and then Pennsylvania after that. It’s not really about these arbitrary state lines. It’s about employee health and the same benefits no matter where you are. But of course, I think what we see is the more momentum in other states, the more pressure there will be to follow suit in Nevada.”

Brian Christopher, a slot-playing social media star who uses his platform to advocate for eliminating smoke-friendly policies, said he’s seen how players would support a ban as well. A survey of his fans found that 94 percent of respondents prefer smoke-free casinos, including smokers.

“Gamblers go to casinos to gamble. Smokers go to casinos to gamble, and also smoke,” Christopher said. “They’re used to going outside to smoke everywhere else, including their own houses and restaurants. They acknowledge that it’s actually good for them to have a little break from gambling as well.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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