Across the country, state and local laws prohibiting smoking in public areas such as workplaces, restaurants and bars now cover nearly 5,000 municipalities, representing approximately 35 percent of the U.S. population. Though laws passed in gaming jurisdictions have mostly exempted gaming areas in casinos, the negative economic impacts of smoking bans already have been seen at Delaware’s racetrack casinos, and we as an industry must be prepared for the possibility of full or partial smoking bans in other gaming jurisdictions.
With each passing year, the number of smoking bans throughout the U.S. continues to grow, making it increasingly important for us to come together and make indoor air quality (IAQ) issues an industrywide priority. The American Gaming Association (AGA) is committed to seeking practical solutions and addressing concerns about smoking in casinos, efforts that undoubtedly will be strengthened by our industry’s universal and intense commitment to optimal customer service at casino properties from coast to coast.
Current anti-smoking legislation comes in all shapes and sizes. From total bans in New York City and other jurisdictions to Kansas City’s local ordinance that would force its casinos to go smoke-free if neighboring cities adopt smoking bans for similar venues, anti-smoking advocates are making headway nationwide. Even Nevada has seen the introduction of petitions that would prohibit smoking in public places, one of which would impact the non-gaming areas of casino properties. Smoking bans in Nevada may not be imminent, but the mere existence of petitions to make the state’s public areas smoke-free is an important indicator that, even in the strongest gaming jurisdictions, IAQ issues are becoming more visible in the public domain.
It’s no secret to anyone familiar with the gaming entertainment industry that our number one priority is the comfort and safety of our patrons and employees. As an industry, our patrons hail from a wide variety of countries, cultures and backgrounds, comprising a clientele with diverse needs and interests. We always are faced with the challenge of meeting those diverse needs in order to provide the ideal setting where our patrons feel comfortable taking advantage of the broad spectrum of entertainment possibilities we have to offer, and our employees are able to do their jobs in a healthy environment.
Effectively addressing IAQ issues is one important way we can continue to meet those diverse needs. Whether or not we like it, the truth is that our industry serves both smoking and nonsmoking customers – and it’s our job to ensure that, when they visit our casinos, both these populations have an experience that meets or exceeds their expectations. Our industry is neither pro-smoking nor anti-smoking, but we realize that balancing the needs of these two distinct sets of patrons, as well as those of our employees who don’t smoke, is of paramount importance.
At the American Gaming Association (AGA), we believe there are alternative solutions that can provide a safe and comfortable environment for our patrons and employees short of a blanket ban on smoking. Our goal always has been to support reasonable, science-based solutions to indoor air quality concerns, such as the state-of-the-art ventilation systems now found in many newer casinos nationwide and that also are being installed at older casinos as they upgrade their facilities. Air-cleaning technologies are continually improving, and the ventilation systems already in place have proven effective in improving indoor air quality at the properties where they are in use.
Demonstrating our continued commitment to helping our members and the industry as a whole address this important issue, the AGA this year is creating new educational opportunities focused on IAQ issues and is continuing to work with IAQ standards-setting organizations to ensure the unique needs of hospitality-centered industries are taken into account as standards are created and revised.
On May 11, the AGA Air Quality Task Force will host an Indoor Air Quality Vendor Fair as part of the inaugural G2E Institute, the gaming industry’s first focused, educational conference to offer interactive workshop-style sessions featuring a variety of specific industry sectors. At the event, casino operators will hear from IAQ vendors on specific issues surrounding indoor air quality and will have the opportunity to see and learn about the latest air-filtration technologies. G2E Institute, scheduled for May 9-11 at the Red Rock Resort, Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, also will feature a dedicated conference session on managing indoor air quality at gaming facilities that will be led by top experts in the field.
Indoor air quality as it pertains to our industry also will be examined as part of the AGA 10th Anniversary White Paper Series, which already includes white papers on a number of key industry issues. The latest white paper will offer a comprehensive view of the industry’s relationship with IAQ issues, including a close look at the health risks of secondhand smoke, the status and characteristics of smoking bans and alternative IAQ solutions, current IAQ standards and a discussion of the solutions the industry can adopt and support to proactively address IAQ issues within our establishments. The white paper, scheduled for release this spring, will be authored by Steve Barringer of MGN, Inc. and Tom Susman of Ropes and Gray, LLP, a pair of environmental lawyers who have worked extensively with the industry to address IAQ concerns.
In addition to these educational efforts, the AGA will continue to work closely with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a standards-setting organization that creates building standards that form the foundation for many state and local code provisions. The AGA will participate in continued efforts to educate ASHRAE’s membership about the unique needs of casino properties as part of a hospitality-focused industry and will support the creation of fair and effective standards that take into account those needs.
The AGA will continue to seek out new solutions to improve indoor air quality and assist casino executives by providing the most current and thorough information on IAQ issues so that our entire industry is prepared when new regulations, standards and other challenges arise. Throughout these efforts, the health of our employees and patrons will remain paramount, and we will never lose sight of our goal to provide them with as safe, comfortable and enjoyable an environment as possible.