A new poll conducted by the American Lung Association in Indiana shows support for smoke-free casinos in the Hoosier state, a step already taken by at least two casinos.
The survey shows 70% of registered voters polled support prohibiting smoking in public places like bars, restaurants, and casinos. When asked specifically about tobacco use in casinos, 65% of voters are in favor of prohibiting smoking and vaping inside casinos.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Nick Torres, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in Indiana, said the survey has added significance as the country deals with the effects of COVID-19, a respiratory virus.
“COVID has really made it front of mind for businesses of all kinds. Everybody is taking into account the health and safety of guests, customers, workers. And now that’s true of casinos as well.”
The French Lick Resort and Casino and the Four Winds Casino in South Bend instituted a tobacco-free environment as they prepared to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Four Winds is owned by the Michigan-based Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.
“Preliminary medical research suggests that lungs exposed to cigarette smoke may be more vulnerable to damage inflicted by the coronavirus. As a result, we felt it appropriate to invite guests outside to designated smoking areas,” said Matthew Wesaw, Tribal Council Chairman of the Pokagon Band and chief executive officer of the Pokagon Gaming Authority
Torres said more than 150 casinos nationwide have implemented new smoke free policies. He hopes the new poll results will encourage other Indiana casinos to prioritize the health and safety of employees and guests by instituting similar policies.
“There’s really strong support for people saying, if casinos were smoke-free, it would be a more pleasant experience. It would be a safer, cleaner option, not only for guests but also for workers,” said Torres. “I think we’re also seeing more and more people are concerned not just about themselves as customers, but about the workers, the employees who are serving them in different capacities.”
Wesaw said customers and employees have been positive about the safety and sanitation measures implemented at its casino in South Bend, as well as its locations in Michigan.
Whether the smoke-free rules will remain in place is yet to be determined.
“The health and safety of our employees and guests is our first priority and we will continue to evaluate updates to guidelines provided by the federal government, the CDC and Michigan and Indiana Governors as well as completing our own evaluations with the Pokagon Gaming Authority, Pokagon Gaming Commission, and Pokagon Health Task Force,” said Wesaw. “Based on new information over time, we will make a determination on when to add additional services or update our current health and safety guidelines.”
Torres said the conversation should include not only health factors but the economic implications.
“We’ve got smoke free states on either side of us and Illinois and Ohio. And so, take an opportunity to think of the ways that Indiana values being business-friendly and looking ahead at new industries and growing the gaming market here.”
The American Lung Association poll shows if smoking were prohibited in casinos, 38% would be more likely to visit. Casinos might also see an increase in the occasional visitor with 51% of those who visit casinos once or twice a year saying they would be more likely to come if casinos were smoke-free. Torres said that is a “significant potential market expansion.”
“You know, I think by and large, even people who choose to smoke, don’t want to subject other people to secondhand smoke,” Torres said. “I think there’s strong evidence that giving the choice, smoke-free gaming would be a great option.”
Torres said new smoke free policies should also include e-cigarettes.
“A smoke-free space is a smoke-free space and I think people really appreciated the fact that if a place is nonsmoking that means combustible cigarettes it also means e-cigarettes.”
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Nick Torres, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in Indiana, says business economics should be factored in the conversation.