Ind. lawmakers: Exempt casinos from smoking ban

INDIANAPOLIS – A House committee plans to exempt casinos from a bill imposing a statewide smoking ban after an analyst said the state could lose nearly $200 million annually if customers can’t smoke at gambling venues.

The Health Committee took more than two hours of testimony on House Bill 1018 and then delayed a vote to next week. But Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said the bill won’t move forward unless the casino exemption is added.

“In this budgetary environment we’re talking about – with every penny tight and any dollar taken away is a dollar taken away from K-12 education – it’s our obligation to maybe minimize” the bill’s fiscal impact, Brown said.

The change would give the bill a better chance of passing in the Senate as well. That chamber’s leader, President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Wednesday he’s open to hearing the bill – after several years of killing the proposal – but only if it exempts casinos.

Jim Landers, an analyst with the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, said studies from Delaware and Illinois show that smoking bans in those states cut casino admissions by 10 percent and wagering by 20 percent.

Smokers “make fewer trips to the casinos,” Landers said. “And when they go, they spend less on average.”

That led Landers to create a fiscal impact statement estimating that the ban would cut state gambling tax revenues by roughly $100 million to nearly $200 million annually.

Danielle Patterson, chairwoman of the Indiana Campaign for Smokefree Air, called Landers’ analysis “skewed” and asked lawmakers if they could have a fiscal impact statement prepared by someone less biased.

“All workers should be protected,” Patterson said.

Karena Walter worked at Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg for more than 14 years before quitting in March because of health problems she associated with patrons’ smoking.

She criticized efforts to exempt casinos from the bill, telling lawmakers that people who work at hospitals or other locations should have no more right to a smoke-free environment than she does.

“I just want to be cared for as a person, as an employee,” Walter said. “Why can’t I have rights like everyone else? I had to choose my health over my job.”

Supporters also said the health-related savings that would come from a statewide ban would outweigh any lost revenue.

Robert Saywell, professor emeritus at the Indiana University School of Medicine, estimated that Indiana loses some $530 million annually due to diseases and deaths caused by second-hand smoke.

“Who pays these costs?” Saywell said. “We all do through the higher costs of health insurance premiums and through the higher costs of goods and services and the taxes we pay.”

But Mike Smith, executive director of the Casino Association of Indiana, said the concern is not just about state revenue but about the jobs and other local impacts his members provide.

“There is a genuine impact” of a smoking ban, Smith said. “It’s something that really needs to be addressed.”

Casino officials asked lawmakers to not just exempt the casino floors from the ban but also their restaurants and hotels.

Ryan Soultz, director of governmental affairs for Boyd Gaming, which operates Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, said he would continue to oppose HB 1018 until “the entire footprint” of the casino operation, including the hotel and restaurant, is exempted.

Don Marquardt, president of the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association, asked lawmakers to exempt bars and taverns from the legislation as well. He said the marketplace already allows bar owners to opt to go smoke-free if they want.

Some do and don’t lose money, he said. But many bars where bans are imposed do lose revenue, Marquardt said.

Brown, the committee’s chairman, said Wednesday that members will discuss whether to exempt bars from the bill as well.

Depauw University freshman Samuel Leist of Louisville urged lawmakers to keep bars and restaurants under the ban. He told lawmakers that his grandfather suffered a heart attack and that he – and consequently his entire family – swore off any restaurant, bar or other retailer that permitted smoking.

“But when a smoking ban similar to this one passed in my home city of Louisville, my grandfather regained the freedom that had been denied to him,” Leist said. “These places had a surge of new clients – pregnant women, elderly couples, families like us. It was an entirely new market and this brought great health and economic benefits to the citizens of Louisville, Kentucky.”


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