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Massachusetts Senate Wants to Allow Smoking in Casinos

With the recession hitting land-based casinos hard, Massachusetts senators are trying to bring people to the casinos, even if it means taking a serious step backwards in public health. It’s illegal to smoke in a workplace, a bar, or a restaurant in Massachusetts, but Senate leaders want to allow smoking in casinos.

Antismoking advocates say that allowing smoking in the three proposed casinos would put casino workers at high risk for smoking-related illnesses. They also claim that it would hurt non-smoking casino patrons. Moreover, it would create controversy regarding the ban already in place in bars and restaurants. With the ban on smoking in workplaces, casino workers would be the only workers in the state forced to work under smoke-filled conditions. Russet Morrow Breslau, executive director of the anti-smoking advocacy group Tobacco Free Mass, said “Casino workers will be exposed for an entire shift to carcinogens.”

The legislation would allow smoking in up to one quarter of the gaming area in each casino, and would require marking the areas clearly and ventilation to help “minimize the effect of the smoke on the nondesignated areas.” Critics of smoking sections have referred to having a smoking section in an enclosed space as similar to “having a peeing section in a swimming pool” implying that inevitably those in the non-smoking sections will be affected by the smoke.

Advocates of the plan claim that having casinos without smoking would mean lower revenues because players would go to other states where they can smoke while gambling. Senator Richard Tisei, a smoker, didn’t understand the problem. He said “If gambling’s a vice, smoking’s a vice, so why are you going to allow gambling but not smoking?”

It seems like a fairly weak argument. Why not offer all of the possible vices in one place? Why not offer marijuana, cocaine, and prostitutes legally at the casino as well? After all, they’re just vices.

Among opponents of the bill are Mark Hymovitz, director of government relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society. Hymovitz said that allowing smoking in casinos would force casino workers to make a choice between their job and their health. When one considers the millions courts have awarded to workers who were exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, the long-term costs to the casinos could be quite high.

Senator Susan Tucker opposes allowing smoking, but believes that if casinos can prove that allowing smoking will increase revenues, a ban will not remain in place. Research has shown that casino revenues drop immediately after the implementation of a smoking ban, but then rise to previous levels after several months.

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