It was bad enough that the Legislature exempted state-owned casinos from the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act in the first place, worse when it let another session go by without righting the wrong. The hypocrisy should stop this year.
True, operators of the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, the Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City and the new Hollywood Casino in Wyandotte County make a compelling argument that banning smoking could hurt their revenue by as much as 33 percent and send gamblers elsewhere. At a legislative hearing last week, one lobbyist likened cigarettes on the gaming floor to “popcorn at the movies.”
But casinos are smoke-free in eight states, including Colorado, and an Illinois study last year found that state’s 2008 smoking ban had no detectable effect on casino admissions.
Besides, restaurants and other private businesses across Kansas tried the bottom-line argument before the indoor-smoking ban passed the Legislature in 2010.
Because the research shows there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, doing the right thing meant banning smoking in indoor settings including restaurants and other workplaces. It also was relevant that the state was spending $196 million a year in Medicaid expenses for tobacco-related illnesses such as heart disease and lung cancer.
Business concerns didn’t trump public health then, and the casinos’ business concerns shouldn’t trump public health now.
Nor should the casinos be able to escape the smoking ban by claiming their ventilation systems can handle the smoke, when private businesses have no such option and experts question how well the technology works.
Lawmakers shouldn’t be treating the health of some Kansans as more worthy of protection than that of others. Especially in this job market, it’s no justification that casino employees “choose to work there,” as the lobbyist argued.
And concerns now seem overblown that the Legislature, if given another crack at the smoking ban, would weaken or repeal it; the House, once considered the most likely place for such mischief, voted 97-26 last year to end the casino exemption. Meanwhile, a poll released last February showed support for the smoking law from 77 percent of voters and even 54 percent of smokers. And though Sam Brownback said as a candidate in 2010 that he opposed the ban, he hasn’t made a repeal a priority and has agreed that the casino exemption is hypocritical.
State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, a physician who led the fight for the smoking law, expressed uneasiness last week with breaking the state’s “promise” to casino operators.
But there is no honor in upholding a promise that never should have been made because it compromised public health.
If imposing a smoking ban on private businesses was a hard call for a Legislature that prizes property rights, extending the ban to state-owned casinos should not be – the key words being “state-owned.”
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman