STATE HOUSE – Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi today introduced legislation (2023 H-5237) to include casinos in the state’s law prohibiting smoking in workplaces.
“Casino workers are Rhode Islanders, parents, caregivers, taxpayers and human beings, and they deserve the same protections as everyone else in our state. It is fundamentally wrong to say that no one should be exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace, but carve out an exception that leaves one group of workers not only unprotected, but in fact, bathed in smoke every day. There’s no excuse for continuing to endanger their health, and we need to pass this bill to let them breathe safely like everyone else,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).
Casinos are currently exempted from the 2004 Public Health and Workplace Safety Act, which workers and advocates say has a detrimental impact on casino workers. When Rhode Island’s two casinos reopened in June 2020 following the COVID 19 shutdown, they prohibited indoor smoking as a safety measure. In March of 2022, they reinstated smoking in designated gaming floors.
“This has affected my whole life and the lives of my coworkers,” said Vanessa Baker, who has worked in casinos for 30 years. “During COVID, I could finally breath again, I was off of my asthma medications, I was feeling healthy. Now my asthma is flaring up, I struggle even going to the gym or going hiking because I’m so short of breath.”
Supporters point out that allowing smoking is no longer necessary for successful business in casinos. Casinos in Massachusetts and most Connecticut casinos do not allow indoor smoking. In fact, competition from the 100% smoke-free Encore Boston Harbor casino, which opened in June 2019, is considered to be biting into Rhode Island’s revenue from table games, video lottery terminals and sports.
The legislation failed to move out of committee last year, but advocates are hopeful.
“Thousands of our neighbors work in casinos, providing entertainment to people from across the region and crucial tax revenue for our state,” Representative Tanzi said. “It’s time to do the right thing and stop treating them like second-class citizens.”
“I love this business,” Baker said. “It’s my way of life, it’s been my whole career. Everyone else gets to do their job in a smoke-free environment. Why are we still left behind?”