Those who are concerned about smokers’ rights in Indiana may have a “you win two; you lose the big one” situation on their hands. If a Wednesday night meeting is any indication, smoking in public places may be banned in the Hoosier state, but the state’s casinos and cigar bars might be exempted.
Indiana officials have for some time now wanted to ban smoking in public areas, including restaurants and bars. A major bone of contention, though, has been over the question of banning smoking in the state’s casinos.
At a meeting of the House Public Health Committee, a bill banning smoking was discussed; no action was taken, though. That being said, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and Committee Chair Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, have indicated they would vote next week to amend the bill to exempt casinos.
Republican Governor Mitch Daniels is on board with the idea of a smoking ban, saying he’d sign any legislation brought to his desk because there is “growing momentum for one.”
If a smoker is not a gambler, though, they’re probably going to be out of luck when it comes to smoking indoors in Indiana. While some bar and restaurant owners want an exemption, Rep. Brown has indicated he’s against any other exceptions—save for cigar bars. Also included in the proposed exemption are horse-racing tracks and off-track betting facilities.
Indiana’s casino owners have argued that a smoking ban would hurt business. A recent study by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency appears to back up that claim. That body recently estimated the state could lose more than $180 million a year in taxes if gamblers couldn’t light up.
Rep. Brown has proposed several anti-smoking bills in recent years, but all have failed to garner support. With a forecast slump in revenues from casinos from such a bill, combined with a corresponding expected cut in state revenues from the casinos’ take, no hope exists for a comprehensive ban, Rep. Brown said.
Legislators in Indiana only had to look west and north to see how an anti-smoking ban has potentially hurt casino revenues, which also bring in tax revenues to the state. Illinois saw an actual drop in its gambling revenues, after it enacted a smoking ban that included its riverboat casinos. According to a report from a bi-partisan state legislature commission, gambling revenue from sources like casinos, the lottery and horse-racing tracks totaled just over $1 billion in the last fiscal year, a 4.5 percent drop from the previous year.
The decrease is laid squarely at the doorstep of Illinois’ nine riverboat casinos, where revenues are off partially because of current economic woes and competition from other states—including Indiana—where smoking is currently allowed in casinos.
Hoosier state legislators should know, though, that Illinois has taken notice of the smoking/casino connection, and the House currently has a proposal in front of it to ban smoking at the state’s casinos.