Bally’s Casinos in High Stakes Battle Over Rhode Island Smoke-Free Policy

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In the salient coastal state of Rhode Island, Bally’s Corporation reigns supreme, wielding an unchallenged monopoly over casino operations. Yet, this gaming juggernaut has found itself in an intriguing tussle with the state’s legislative body, the General Assembly, which drew to a close last week after an action-packed 2024 session.

Rising from the vibrant metropolis of Providence is a distinctive voice belonging to local lawmaker, Teresa Tanzi. The Rhode Island representative has been a formidable advocate of smoke-free casinos, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with anti-smoking campaigners. In a fascinating twist, just as the General Assembly was about to call it a year, Tanzi’s rigorous legislative efforts bore fruit. A bill requiring Bally’s Lincoln and Tiverton casinos to ban smoking walked through the doors of a House committee—and survived.

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Bally’s executives, however, are far from enthusiastic about this development. They’ve painstakingly argued that should their casino floors go smoke-free, the resulting financial fallout would disadvantage not only their operations but also the state’s economy. Job losses and reduced state tax revenues have been cited as potential repercussions in their fervent pleas.

Both of Bally’s casinos, Twin River Lincoln and Tiverton, conveniently channel walks in front of slot-like video lottery terminals, a privilege enjoyed chiefly by the Rhode Island Lottery, which pockets about 60% of the gross income. Nevertheless, efforts to curb indoor tobacco smoking within these bustling gaming halls stumbled at the Providence capital once again.

But a glimmer of hope for those looking forward to smoke-free gaming floors pierced the darkness. Members of a House committee agreed to review the proposal anew prior to the 2024 adjournment of the state Senate and House of Representatives, igniting the possibility that 2025 might finally witness a smog-free casino scene.

House Bill 7500, championed by Tanzi, came to light in February. Endorsed by nine fellow Democrats, Tanzi, herself an ex-smoker, has been tirelessly working to extend the state’s Public Health and Workplace Safety Act to Bally’s properties. The Act currently prohibits indoor smoking across most public places and businesses. Tasked with evaluating the gravity of such an enactment to the casinos was the House Finance Committee.

While the committee did not complete a formal study on the topic, a unanimous vote on June 13 by ten Democratic members indicated progress. Tanzi expressed that their symbolic vote emphasized concern for casino workers’ experiences.

Despite a repeated failure by the General Assembly to enforce the proposed smoking ban in 2024, CEASE (Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects) Rhode Island chapter members feel the winds of change. They believe the committee’s vote may offer the necessary impetus to drive a casino smoking bill across the legislative finishing line in 2025.

In a separate development, May saw Bally’s Corp. shareholders turn down an investor’s proposal to assess the business impact of an industry-wide ban on indoor smoking. Bally’s executives had recommended voting against the proposition, labelling it as baseless and extravagant.

In parallel to the heating debate on casino smoking, Bally’s managed to sway state lawmakers into permitting higher credit lines for VIPs and high rollers at its two casinos. Spearheaded by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, legislative Bill 3040 would double the cash allowance for qualified players from $50,000 to a whopping $100,000. The bill, already approved by both Senate and House, now awaits the governor’s signature.

Governor McDaniel’s decision on the casino credit amendment bill is eagerly anticipated, as this significant economic measure may soon become law. While the smoke may have cleared from a gruelling legislative session, the unresolved debate over a smoke-free casino environment in Rhode Island still smolders on.