Posted on: December 28, 2022, 12:59h. 

Last updated on: December 28, 2022, 02:19h.

Rhode Island casino workers at the state’s two casinos hope to gain smoke-free workplaces in 2023.

Rhode Island casino smoking Bally's Lincoln Tiverton
A cigarette smoker inhales tobacco. Some casino workers in Rhode Island are fed up with the state’s ongoing permission of indoor smoking at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort and Bally’s Tiverton. (Image: Getty)

Employees at Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Bally’s Tiverton — the only casinos in Rhode Island — continue to be subjected to secondhand smoke at the properties. Rhode Island’s Public Health and Workplace Safety Act passed in 2004 provided exemptions for the state’s two commercial casinos.

Bally’s Twin River and Tiverton are permitted to designate sections of their gaming floors for indoor smoking. The smoking areas are to “be physically separated” from the rest of the nonsmoking floor and have their own ventilation systems.

Despite the safeguard, many casino workers and nonsmoking gamblers have voiced frustrations in recent years regarding tobacco smoke permeating the casinos. State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Narragansett) says she will follow up on her legislative efforts next year to close the casino smoking loophole.

I find it appalling that workers at casinos are not given the same protections as any other workers,” Tanzi told The Boston Globe this week. “There is no safe level of secondhand tobacco exposure. I’ll just keep working until it is eliminated.”

Tanzi plans to reintroduce legislation when the Rhode Island General Assembly convenes for its 2023 session in January.

Grassroots Movement Formed

Tanzi says she’s fighting to change the state’s casino smoking laws on the workers’ behalf. The Globe also spoke with Vanessa Baker, a gaming floor supervisor at Bally’s Tiverton, who says her three-decade career working inside smoke-filled casinos has compromised her personal health.

Baker says she takes 10 medications daily and uses two inhalers and a nebulizer. A nonsmoker herself, she points fingers for her respiratory issues at her place of employment.

“They need to stop poisoning us. It’s their money over our health,” Baker declared.

Baker is part of a local group of casino employees fighting for a regulatory change to indoor casino smoking laws. The group recently chartered its own local chapter of “Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE),” an anti-casino smoking organization founded last year in Atlantic City.

“Rhode Island needs to stop gambling with the health of our casino workers,” a CEASE Rhode Island statement declared.

“The rest of Rhode Island’s hospitality industry is smoke-free — and has been for more than 17 years. It is unfair to prioritize the casino industry over the health concerns of the hard-working employees who have been ignored for too long,” the release concluded.

Top Democrat Opposes Effort

A major hurdle stands in Tanzi’s way if she is to overhaul casino smoking regulations in the Providence capital. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, the top Democrat in the heavily Democratic Assembly, believes smoking should remain inside the two Bally’s casinos.

Ruggerio says Tanzi’s bill isn’t needed, as Bally’s Lincoln officials last year committed to making the first floor of the casino’s expansion entirely smoke-free when it opens next year. The Twin River casino is also building a new smoking area on the second floor with an improved ventilation system.

Ruggerio nonetheless admitted that ventilation upgrades were needed.

I’ve been in that place on numerous occasions. The smoke just sits there. They are going to fix that,” Ruggerio stated.

As for Tanzi’s legislative efforts, the Democrat said, “I oppose that bill because they already resolved that issue at Twin River. If you get rid of smoking, you will lose half the customers, without a doubt.”