Bill to Ban Smoking in Rhode Island Casinos Still Smoldering

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The picture shows a general view of the Rhode Island State House in Providence, Rhode Island. Image taken from Rhode Island's Republican Party official Facebook page.

They still haven’t cleared the air in Rhode Island.

The bill that would ban smoking at Bally’s Twin River and Tiverton casinos has been held for further study, indicating that it may not advance during this legislative session.

The House Finance Committee discussed the legislation and then decided to hold HB 7500 instead of voting to move it to the full House floor. There’s since been no action on the bill. The Senate version of HB 7500, Senate Bill 2368, has also been shelved. Senate Finance Committee members motioned to hold the bill for further review, too.

Casino workers want better workplace protections, while Bally’s argues that a ban would hurt their business and the state’s revenue. Let’s take a closer look at the conflict and its potential impact on top-rated sportsbooks.

The Debate Centers Around Health and Revenue

The issue that the bill is trying to address comes from casino workers expressing concerns about their health due to ongoing indoor smoking in the state. They argue that they deserve the same workplace protections as other industries.

“Imagine what that’s like, night after night, having to go home with cigarette smell in your hair, having to shower before you even got into bed,” said Rep. Teresa Tanzi. Casino workers and their unions joined her to advocate for smoke-free casinos. “Every single night, throwing your clothes in the laundry every single night because of the stench of smoking,” Tanzi said.

However, this is where it gets tricky.

Under Rhode Island’s 2004 Public Health and Workplace Safety Act, the state’s two commercial casinos have the authority to designate portions of their gaming floors for smoking. However, nonsmoking sections must be ‘physically separated’ from smoking areas and equipped with separate ventilation systems.

Bally’s Says Ban Would Lead to Losses

Still, Bally’s also looks at it from a different side—a financial one.

Bally’s representatives oppose a smoking ban because they believe it would negatively impact their operations and, consequently, the state’s gaming income. These casinos operate video lottery terminals (VLTs) on behalf of the Rhode Island Lottery. The state currently receives approximately 60% of the VLT revenue.

During a House Finance Committee meeting, Craig Sculo, Vice President of Bally’s Twin River Lincoln, pointed out that Bally’s casinos provide employees with the choice to work in smoke-free areas. They also introduced a second nonsmoking gaming space at the Lincoln resort, which complements the existing smoke-free second-floor casino.

Bally’s owns and manages 15 casinos across 10 states, a New York golf course and a Colorado horse racetrack

Time Is Running Out for Lawmakers

As the casino smoking bills remain under consideration in Providence, the 2024 legislative session of the Rhode Island General Assembly approaches its conclusion. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 30.
If lawmakers hope to vote on the bill this year, it will be a short study session. We’ll continue to follow the developments.