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Las Vegas casinos modifying smoking policies amid pandemic

Updated July 15, 2020 - 10:29 am

Las Vegas casinos are modifying their smoking policies amid the pandemic.

On June 18, Las Vegas Sands Corp. updated its health and safety plan to ask table game players and spectators to refrain from smoking or vaping.

Spokesman Keith Salwoski said the change was made when the company announced face coverings would be required at table and card games, but otherwise declined to comment on the reasoning behind the new policy.

Health experts continue to warn against smoking inside casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Venetian and Palazzo aren’t the only Las Vegas casinos to tighten their rules on smoking in recent months.

Policies across companies

Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s smoking policy now requires players smoking at table games with plexiglass to wear a mask unless actively smoking. Table games without plexiglass are designated as nonsmoking, nonvaping tables.

Spokesman Michael Weaver did not say when the updated policy was put into place but said it has “evolved in steps” since the June 4 reopening.

A Caesars Entertainment Corp. spokesperson said the company has not changed its smoking policy since it started requiring guests wear masks on June 24.

Customers are allowed to smoke but must wear a mask inside the property. They’re advised to lower their mask to smoke, then lift it back into place.

MGM Resorts International spokesman Brian Ahern said patrons are allowed to smoke, as long as “proper protocols are in place.”

Certain table games and areas on MGM’s casino slot floors have been designated as nonsmoking, and certain table games require patrons to be 6 feet away to smoke. This policy has been in place since June 4.

Sahara Las Vegas’ health and safety plan has asked table game players to wear a face mask and step away from the game to smoke since it was initially released in May.

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman David Strow declined to comment; the company’s health and safety plan’s only mention of smoking is a policy requiring staff to wash their hands after smoking.

A spokesman for Station Casinos did not respond to requests for comment. The company’s health and safety plan does not mention smoking.

Health risks

In May, the Review-Journal reported that smoking inside casinos could spread the virus through smokers’ pattern of putting their fingers to their mouth, then to a gambling device. Smoking or secondhand smoke can also lead to coughing, which can spread the infection.

Then there’s the fact that current or former cigarette smokers likely have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But one of the biggest problems with smoking or vaping inside casinos is people’s inability to simultaneously smoke and wear a mask, said Brian Labus, epidemiologist with the UNLV School of Public Health and the governor’s medical advisory team.

“If you smoke, you can’t follow the mask guidance,” he said. “We want people to wear masks all the time. … Casinos are a difficult place to social distance since you’re around other people a lot. It’s important to keep the mask on so if you’re asymptomatic, you don’t spread (the virus) to other people.”

Last month, Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an emergency directive requiring masks be worn in most public areas beginning June 26.

The directive lists some exceptions — such as allowing patrons seated at certain establishments to take their mask off while eating or drinking, as long as they maintain a 6 feet of distance from other people — but it does not address smoking.

A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to a request for comment to clarify how the mask mandate affects smoking inside casinos.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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