116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In 2008, Iowa lawmakers passed the Smokefree Air Act banning smoking in most public places and workplaces. But the act exempted state-licensed casinos after owners complained the smoking ban would drive customers away from their gambling venues.
As we’ve mentioned before, Iowa’s casino lobby usually gets its way at the Statehouse. But the exemption was a bad idea 14 years ago and remains a mistake today.
But the tide might be turning.
This week, the CEO of Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel in Altoona told Axios Des Moines that the casino’s smoking area has been reduced to just 5 percent of the gambling floor and that the casino could eventually go smoke free. Although there are no immediate plans to do so.
CEO Gary Palmer told Axios that the percentage of Prairie Meadows patrons who smoke has dropped from 60 percent to 25 percent. Various estimates of how many Iowans smoke overall puts the number around 15 percent.
This sounds like a good, bipartisan issue the Legislature could take on in January. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates health care costs due to smoking add up to $1.49 million annually. That includes $391.9 million paid by the state-funded Medicaid program. Not to mention the 5,100 adults who die each year in Iowa of smoking related illnesses.
There are already three smoke-free tribal casinos in Iowa in Carter Lake, Onawa and Sloan. New casinos opening in Nebraska will be subject to that state’s indoor smoking ban. Illinois casinos have been smoke free for several years. State-regulated gambling venues in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota are also subject to anti-smoking laws.
So the argument that a casino smoking ban will cause the loss of customers to competition from other states doesn’t hold water. As for Iowans, most of us, including smokers, have adapted to Iowa’s law and probably think nothing of it. There’s simply no good reason to continuing jeopardizing the health of casino employees and non-smoking patrons, no matter how much casino interests tout their costly ventilation systems.
If the industry and lawmakers still aren’t convinced, we have a suggestion. The Legislature should pass a two-year moratorium on smoking inside casinos. We know how much Iowa casinos like a good moratorium. We’re sure they’ll be on board.
(319) 398-8262; email@example.com