SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ total workplace smoking ban may soon be a little less total after the state house today narrowly approved a measure that would create smoking exemptions for Illinois’ 10 riverboat casinos.
By Benjamin Yount and Melissa Leu
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ total workplace smoking ban may soon be a little less total after the state house today narrowly approved a measure that would create smoking exemptions for Illinois’ 10 riverboat casinos. The vote was 62-52.
Lawmakers approved a total smoking ban for “all indoor workplaces” in the state in 2007. Since then, riverboat operators have complained about a drop in profits, visitors and taxes paid to Illinois.
State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, said he’s seen the two riverboats in the Metro East wither since the smoking ban went into effect in 2008.
“The two boats, one in East St. Louis and the other in Alton, used to have 70 percent of the gaming business,” Holbrook said. “Now that’s down to 11 percent.”
But smoking opponents counter that those numbers seem to move depending on the need for votes.
Kathy Drea with the American Lung Association of Illinois said the smoking ban keeps getting blamed for losses that seem to keep growing.
“The figure of what has been lost by Illinois casinos was $200 million, then it was $400 million, but suddenly it (grew to) $800 million,” she said.
Drea said the smoking ban is a matter of public health. Every casino worker in Illinois, she said, should be worried about this legislation.
But State Rep Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said smoking in casinos is a matter of money.
“These boats give the state 50 percent of their revenues (off the top) and Illinois needs every dollar that it can get,” Lang said.
The legislation, HB 1965, now heads to the Illinois Senate. Drea said she isn’t guessing about the plan/s fate, though the Senate has been less than friendly to rolling back the smoking ban in the past.