Posted on: May 27, 2022, 06:53h. 

Last updated on: May 27, 2022, 09:12h.

Rhode Island casino workers and the primary union that represents them have come out in support of ending indoor smoking at the two Bally’s properties.

Rhode Island casino smoking Bally's
Rhode Island Rep. Teresa Tanzi (in red) stands with casino workers in support of ending indoor smoking at the State House in Providence. Rhode Island casino workers say they shouldn’t be subjected to secondhand smoke. (Image: Boston Globe)

Rhode Island’s Public Health & Workplace Safety Act went into effect in March 2005. The law prohibits indoor tobacco use in most public places, but provides exemptions for certain businesses. One such industry given partial immunity to the smoke-free law are the state’s two commercial casinos.

Under current law, Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Bally’s Tiverton can designate areas on the casino floor for indoor smoking. The smoking sections must “be physically separated” from the rest of the nonsmoking environment and have their own ventilation system.

Some Bally’s casino workers say it’s time to end the indoor smoking loophole. The group that represents most gaming industry workers in Rhode Island — the Laborers International Union of North America Local 271 — agrees.

Workers and union officials are getting behind a legislative attempt in Providence to bring casinos into the same regulatory clean-air environment as most bars and restaurants.

Workers Voice Concerns

State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D- Narragansett, South Kingstown) earlier this year introduced legislation that seeks to end indoor casino smoking in Rhode Island. She says the state should treat casino workers as the “parents, caregivers, taxpayers, and human beings” that they are.

Linda Jabrin, a table game dealer at Bally’s Lincoln, presented local news outlet WPRI with a hypothetical.

How many of you smoke or have a close family member or friend who smokes? Do they smoke in your house or do they go outside?” she asked.

Tanzi’s legislation — House Bill 7855 — would repeal the indoor smoking exemption for casinos and pari-mutuel facilities. After being introduced in early March, the bill has sat with the House Finance Committee since April 13.

Tanzi’s bill has six cosponsors, all being Democratic lawmakers. The Rhode Island legislature is heavily Democratic, the party controlling 65 of the 75 House seats and 33 of the 38 Senate positions.

It is fundamentally wrong to say that no one should be exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace, but carve out an exception that leaves one group of workers not only unprotected, but in fact, bathed in smoke every day,” Tanzi said. “There’s no excuse for continuing to endanger their health, and we need to pass this bill to let them breathe safely like everyone else.”

Casino Lobby Quiet

Rhode Island isn’t the only northeastern state mulling a ban on casino smoking. A growing coalition of casino workers and state politicians in New Jersey are pushing legislation to end indoor smoking at the nine gaming resorts in Atlantic City.

But in Atlantic City, the powerful Unite Here labor union that represents some 10,000 gaming industry workers opposes a complete smoking ban. The Casino Association of New Jersey does, too.

The union and trade group say eliminating casino smoking would place Atlantic City at a competitive disadvantage with casinos in nearby Philadelphia, where smoking is allowed on up to 50% of the casino floors. Atlantic City casinos can currently designate up to 25% of their gaming space for smoking.

Back in Rhode Island, Bally’s has so far stayed quiet on whether it would support ending indoor casino smoking. But unlike in Atlantic City and its nearby competition allowing indoor smoke, Rhode Island’s main casino competitors in neighboring Massachusetts are already entirely smoke-free.