It’s long past time for more fresh air inside casinos By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports September 15, 2020 at 7:00 pm The Mirage made history when it opened in 1989 and set a new standard for style and design on the Las Vegas Strip. Journalists offered breathless rave reviews. Visitors packed the place to overflowing. Stars and business tycoons surrounded casino impresario Steve Wynn even as financial analysts and a few spoilsport columnists (me included) wondered aloud whether it could pay what looked like insurmountable junk bond debt. But the thing I liked most about it was that it smelled so good. From the parking garage to the blackjack tables and buffet the place was awash in a fantasy island vibe that included eruptions by a pina colada-scented volcano. At the time, most Las Vegas casinos smelled like a pool hall or your chain-smoking auntie’s ashtray. The Mirage was a Febreze Air commercial come-to-life. It was a shame to mar that atmosphere with cigarette smoke, but at the time the thought of a smoke-free casino in Las Vegas was beyond an absurdity. Strangely, it was considered something akin to sacrilege as a columnist just to raise the issue. After all, Las Vegas was all about the blessed trinity of gambling, drinking, and smoking, right? Smoke-free signage will greet customers entering Park MGM/courtesy photo While the rest of the civilized world changed its acceptance of pervasive cigarette smoke in public, the casino industry soldiered on. As air-conditioning and purification technology improved, so did the atmosphere inside the better gambling palaces. Old-school casinos became anything but nostalgic to new-generation customers. The air improved considerably, but visitors still came home with stinking hair and clothes. But even casino corporations that didn’t allow smoking inside their headquarters refused to stamp out the butts on the gaming floor. They knew their gambling customers, and those customers wanted to light up. These days few businesses allow smoking indoors. The laws and ordinances have changed along with the public’s desires. Although cities were vilified for leading on the subject, now most of the nation’s metro areas have dramatically reduced public smoking areas. Now even part, a small part to be sure, of the Las Vegas casino industry is playing along. When the 3,000-room Park MGM officially reopens Sept. 30, MGM Resorts International announced Monday, it will be as a non-smoking facility. The Associated Press reports the property’s president Anton Nikodemus said the change during the coronavirus pandemic is being made to please guests. “We’re making the facility completely non-smoking because of continued guest requests,” Nikodemus explained. “We believe there is a high level of pent-up demand to have a non-smoking casino, especially here in Las Vegas.” The exterior of the Park MGM in Las Vegas/Courtesy photo from MGM Resorts Yes, even in Las Vegas, where it’s 1975 when it comes to smoking in casinos, change is possible. But it wasn’t the fact the rest of the world has changed, or the litigations and other controversies over smoking in public, or so we’re told. It’s because someone finally took seriously what must be a mountainous pile of guest requests from residents of states that years ago passed tough public smoking restrictions. The fact Park MGM is part of the largest employer in the state sends a message others may follow into a new generation, but I’m not sure I’d bet that way. When Nevada passed the Clean Indoor Air Act in 2006, it excluded casinos and bars. At a time it was creating pandemic-related mask restrictions, the Gaming Control Board didn’t extend the changes to include smoking. Perhaps Park MGM will be remembered not just as the former Monte Carlo, but as the place that started a new era of cleaner air in Las Vegas casinos. Nikodemus told AP that the non-smoking idea was revived after the casino was closed in March due to the pandemic. New carpeting and wallpaper have been installed. Other MGM resorts in Massachusetts and Maryland, home to stricter laws, opened as non-smoking establishments. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, they managed to attract the masses without mass protests about someone taking away their freedom to light up. If the non-smoking idea catches on in Nevada casinos, we’ll all breathe a little easier. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.