Pennsylvania Casino Workers Call for Total Ban on Indoor Smoking

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Casino employees in Pennsylvania voiced their concerns to lawmakers at a hearing in Harrisburg, asserting that the state’s permitted indoor smoking in specific gaming areas was endangering their health. Testimonies were given on Wednesday by members such as Jen Rubolino, the co-chief of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, who strongly advocated for the cessation of indoor smoking in casinos.

State Representative Dan Frankel (D-Alleghany), was at the forefront of this issue, launching another legislative attempt to eliminate the casinos’ exemption from the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act. The current regulation permits casinos to assign up to 50% of their gaming floor for indoor smoking, an allowance that Frankel is vehemently opposing for the second consecutive year. The legislator dispelled the outdated industry claims that the prohibition of smoking would negatively affect their businesses, arguing that clientele would increase in a smoke-free environment.

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Several casino employees were given the opportunity to express their concerns before the Pennsylvania House Health Committee, chaired by Frankel, as they reviewed House Bill 1657. One prominent voice was Rubolino, who is employed as a table games dealer at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. Drawing attention to the strides made by Parx in maintaining a smoke-free environment after COVID-19, she lauded the positive implications for the industry.

According to recent earnings, Parx produced $393.8 million in gross gaming revenue from slot machines and an additional $204.8 million from tables, summing up to nearly $598.6 million as GGR in 2022, outplaying their closest rival, Wind Creek Bethlehem, by an impressive $83 million.

Despite being lauded by employees such as Rubolino for leading the pack, Parx Casino Shippensburg and Parx are the only two of 18 casinos in Pennsylvania to offer entirely smoke-free gaming areas.

Rubolino spoke passionately at the hearing, expressing the collective sentiment of casino employees burdened by the prevailing conditions. The adverse effects of the smoke they had to endure for extended hours were emphasized, as well as the discriminatory aspect of the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act. The plea was for the acknowledgment and support of House Bill 1657, with workers demanding protection and fresh air.

However, no representatives from the casino industry were present to give their testimony during the review of Frankel’s bill. They choose to remain silent on the issue, despite being given the opportunity to voice their stance.

Meanwhile, the state quartermaster of the VFW Department of Pennsylvania, John Getz, revealed that the issue had led to prolonged disagreements within VFW chapters, with a considerable decline in membership with chapters going smoke-free in the past. Recently, however, more chapters had opted for a smoke-free environment post-pandemic, leading them to support Frankel’s bill in a bid to end the ongoing disputes.

The House Health Committee’s responsibility is to protect the health of the residents of Pennsylvania and will continue discussions at their next meeting scheduled for September 27. However, they refrained from taking a vote on the smoking bill at the current meeting.