Casino Smoking Ban in Jeopardy

By Marc Strauss

March 30, 2011 Updated Mar 30, 2011 at 6:18 PM CDT

Where there's second-hand smoke there's fire. When the Illinois House sent a bill to the Senate that would allow smoking again on many riverboat casinos the fire started to spread.

Lisa Adair is the regional director for the American Cancer Society. She was smoldering Wednesday over legislation passed by the Illinois House that would allow exemptions from the state's smoking ban for most casinos.

"For the last 3 years casino workers have been able to work in a clean, smoke-free environment," said Adair. "This law has now passed the House and as it continues to move forward casino workers would be subjected to cancer-causing elements in the air."

Advocates for the legislation say the Smoke Free Illinois Act, under which the ban was imposed, has cost the state $800-million in lost tax revenues. They say many smokers are traveling to casinos in other states where they're allowed to smoke. And a spokesman for Boyd Gaming, which operates the Paradise Casino in East Peoria, says the current law has had a severe financial impact on the Illinois gaming industry.

But State Representative Dan Brady (R-88th District) of Bloomington-Normal voted against the house bill because, he says, its creates an certain inequities.

"I tend to side with those who I represent who indicate if you're carving out exemptions for riverboats are you going to carve out an exemption for my restaurant?," explained Brady. "Are you going to carve out an exemption for my tavern? We're creating more of an unlevel playing field."

If the legislation passes the state senate, and the Smoke Free Illinois Act is weakened, it probably won't happen with the approval of voters.
According to an American Cancer Society release 81-percent of Illinois voters support the current law. On Wednesday the organization put out a call to action in hopes of stopping House Bill 1965.

" We have a grassroots advocacy and volunteer group that will call, write and visit their legislators," said Adair. "That's how Smoke Free Illinois was passed."

Adair hopes fanning the flames it will lead to the bill's defeat in the Springfield.