Should lawmakers ban smoking in casinos?
This site is not Libertarian but we know what we like about gambling and the experience of going into casinos. While we can all approve of regulations to keep gambling reasonably honest and fair, there comes a point when enough is enough with the lawmaking. Let’s take the issue of smoking as an example. Most of us probably believe the science linking tobacco with fatal diseases. Whether you smoke or draw in the smoke second-hand, the risks of cancer and heart disease are even admitted by the tobacco industry. So, on New Year, we all repeat our resolution not to start or to quit. It’s all down to us – a personal decision. If we do decide to smoke, this is a “victimless crime”. No-one is forcing us to do this and it should not be for the law to get involved in making any part of smoking a crime. There are no laws criminalising overeating even though the obese die younger, or threatening to put alcoholics in jail because they are damaging their livers. People own their own bodies and should be allowed to do what they want with it.
So what do we make of all these laws banning or restricting smoking in public places? There are no federal laws. It all comes down to the lawmakers in each state. Some have fairly comprehensive laws restricting smoking in the workplace. Others go on to include some bars and restaurants. But, so far, most states have avoided any kind of restrictions on the operation of casinos. The consensus view has been to avoid anything that might reduce the revenue from gambling operations. As the recession has taken hold and the tax-take from conventional businesses has fallen, maintaining the flow on money into the state coffers has become even more important. So far, the need for money has outweighed the health concerns. After all, no-one forces people to go to a casino. If you are not a smoker and want to avoid passive smoking, do not go to a casino.
Based on the experience in Atlantic City which went through a two-week ban on smoking, casino operators estimate their gross revenues would drop by more than one-third. Where would these gamblers go to play roulette? There are two obvious alternatives. The Tribal casinos stand outside state laws on smoking, and people can always stay home to gamble online. There are no laws to restrict what people do in the privacy of their own homes. We could also get into a kind of bidding war where some states with high costs on the healthcare front may clamp down on smoking only to find their own citizens drive into neighboring states to play there. That’s a double whammy because the lawmaking states lose tax revenue and still have the health costs of treating their citizens who fall ill because of their smoking. There should be federal legislation to replace this current patchwork of different laws. Health is a national priority. Washington should decide the limits on what people should do in public places. As it is, drinking and smoking goes with casino games just like turkey goes with Thanksgiving. Breaking the link is going to make one set of lawmakers really unpopular. Shall we bet on whether federal laws are introduced?