Should the proposed Lansing Kewadin Casino allow smoking? Cynthia Hallett, the executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, and Roger Martin, who represents the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians for the local public relations firm Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, made their cases on the City Pulse radio show last week. (The show airs weekly at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on 88.9-FM The Impact. Podcasts are available at www.lansngcitypulse.com.) The following has been edited and condensed by Joan Bolander. Berl Schwartz and Andy Balaskovitz interviewed Hallett and Martin.
You said that there are casinos that do not allow smoking. Can you say where those are and how they came about?
In the United States there are 19 states that have casinos included in their statewide smoke-free laws. That only applies to those state-owned and operated: tribal casinos obviously are sovereign. In the state of Illinois, which has a state-wide smoke-free law that includes casinos, one of their top-grossing casinos is state-owned. I think what folks may be forgetting is that nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population does not smoke. So when you go smoke-free, you’re opening your casino doors to more potential patrons.
One of the things that Mayor Bernero said is he’s relying on ventilation systems to largely solve the problem. What do you think about ventilation systems in casinos?
Unfortunately ventilation only deals with the comfort and odor in a facility. As we know, just because you can’t see or smell smoke doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. Ventilation is insufficient to protect people from the gases and particulate contained in secondhand smoke, and that’s particularly challenging and damaging for those employees who have to be in that environment for an eight hour shift.
Is there a ventilation system that can successfully remove the dangerous particulate?
I’m afraid there isn’t. I personally attended an American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers meeting when their board of directors back in 2006 adopted a policy that said ventilation cannot deal with the hazardous particulate in secondhand smoke.
Are the developers correct in saying that the Lansing casino would lose revenue as the only nonsmoking casino in Michigan?
We really have not seen any evidence that smoke-free establishments lose money simply because they’re smoke-free. There’s a brand new casino that’s opening up called the Revel that’s going to be the only entirely smoke-free casino in Atlantic City. I think it’s a smart business decision.
Smoking is legal in all Michigan casinos. How did that come about?
It was an economic argument. When the legislation was being made, the three Detroit casinos made the argument that if you ban smoking here everyone’s going to go to the casino in Windsor right across the river. Revenues will suffer and jobs and tax revenues will be lost.
Is there a possibility that three, four, or five years from now, if this casino does open, it might be a smoke-free casino?
It’s impossible to predict. If this casino were opening in April, it would be a smoking property. If it opens next year, it will likely be a smoking property. Who’s to say what it’s to be like three, four, five, or seven years from now, assuming all federal approvals are had and the property opens.
Banning smoking in the casino has been called a deal breaker. Do you have any insight into that?
Well, it’s an economic deal breaker. In today’s market and knowing the demographics of gamers, smoking is something a large proportion of people who like to go to casinos like and prefer to do.
One of the biggest sales points of the people who want this casino is the Promise Scholarship Program. Isn’t the cornerstone of the program going to be based on money coming from a building where people can go absorb secondhand smoke?
And consume a legal product?
Well, it is a legal product—but it kills.
We’ll be serving alcohol at the casino, too, and some people could be saying, should we be funding a scholarship with revenues based on alcohol sales?
Was there any way of looking at this as making it more attractive to new casino visitors who may not come otherwise because they think of them as smoke-filled places?
Casino technology and air-scrubbing technology have improved significantly in the last few years. I can assure people of this: if, when we open, it is a smoking facility, we are going to have the best possible technology in there.