June 24, 2010 - The Massachusetts Senate voted Thursday, June 24th to ban smoking in casinos as part their push to license three of the resort-style gambling venues. The 24-15 vote removes a portion of the bill that would have allowed casinos to set aside up to a quarter of their gambling floor as a smoking section, provided they install "appropriate ventilation so as to minimize the effect of the smoke on the nondesignated areas."
Critics said granting casinos an exemption from the state's six-year-old workplace smoking ban would jeopardize the health of casino employees. Under the 2004 law, smoking is barred in restaurants, bars and other workplaces. There are exceptions for private clubs and cigar bars.
The Senate resumed debate Thursday on its bill to create three casino resorts including one for a region defined as the four counties of Western Massachusetts. The Senate is scheduled for a final vote on the bill on Friday, June 25th.
During Thursday’s debate, the Senate voted to approve an amendment by Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, that would require casinos to abide by the state’s law banning smoking at indoor work places. The amendment eliminates a provision in the Senate bill that would have allowed casinos to designate 25 percent of gaming space for smoking.
Opponents argued that a smoking ban would put the state’s casinos at a competitive disadvantage with casinos in Connecticut and racinos in Rhode Island, which currently allow smoking. “This is the nanny state of all nanny states,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei, R-Wakefield. “We want to make this a politically correct casino,” Tisei added. “It’s not going to work.” Supporters said workers at casinos need to be protected from second-hand smoke. “Second hand smoke will not remain within the arbitrary designation,” said Sen. Susan C. Fargo, D-Lincoln. “You can’t ventilate a designated smoking area.”
A study commissioned by the Senate to look at the potential revenues from casinos in Massachusetts said three slot machine parlors in Delaware lost more than 11 percent in revenue in 2003 after the state banned smoking. The report also noted that in the years following the ban, revenues rebounded to pre-ban levels. Atlantic City banned smoking in the city's 11 casinos in 2008, but repealed the ban a month after it went into effect because of complaints by casinos.
The state House of Representatives also banned smoking in casinos when that chamber approved its casino bill in April. The House bill calls for two casino resorts and 750 slot machines for each of the state’s two horse tracks and two former dog tracks.
A six-member panel from the House and the Senate is expected to be named to settle differences in the two casino bills. A compromise bill would be sent to Gov. Deval L. Patrick, who supports casino resorts but is opposed to slots at the tracks.
On a voice vote, the Senate also approved an amendment by Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield, that would require companies to open a casino within three years after winning a license, with certain exceptions. Violators would face a $100 million fine and license revocation.
References: Massachusetts Senate bans smoking in casinos, rejects study on cost benefits, Dan Ring, The Republican, MassLive.com, 6/24/2010; Mass. Senate votes to ban smoking in casinos by STEVE LeBLANC, Associated Press - Bloomberg Business Week, 6/24/2010.
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