Friday, March 14, 2008

Tribe's Two Casinos Under Cloud Of Smoking Ban

Feather News

Lawmakers in both Pennsylvania and Connecticut are actively pursuing laws that seek to ban smoking at casinos in those states.

In Pennsylvania, the state senate passed a bill that would ban smoking in 75% of the casinos' gaming floors while a house-bill seeks to ban smoking in all areas of the casinos.

Tribal officials say that a smoking ban would result in customers going to casinos in other states, which would reduce casino revenues. Lower casino revenues could force casinos to layoff employees. Many believe that a partial smoking ban in Atlantic City, N.J., casinos has resulted in patrons going to Pennsylvania casinos. A New Jersey law passed last year bans smoking in 75% of Atlantic City's casino floors.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the state attorney general weighed in yesterday by submitting a formal opinion to state lawmakers which states that tribal agreements (compacts) with the state have provisions that would require the tribes, in effect, to comply with Connecticut's public health and safety standards.

“The issue of sovereignty would really be almost beside the point here,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said yesterday. Blumenthal said he talked to leaders from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes before releasing his decision. Both have expressed interest in negotiating an agreement and a group of lawmakers from southeastern Connecticut also endorsed government-to-government talks before any law is passed.

“The ban would be upheld,” Blumenthal said. “The only question is, when and at what cost?”

Mohegan officials say that roughly one-third of its casino floor space at both casinos is currently smoke-free and policies are in place that allow workers to transfer to smoke-free areas upon request.

But tribal officials are not caving in to Connecticut lawmakers. “Rather then moving forward with legislation ... we believe that communication and cooperation will lead to a successful outcome, whereas unilateral state action will only lead to a completely unnecessary, costly and destructive legal battle,” Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said in a statement.