‘Roving gamblers’ deserve clean air wherever they lay their money down By Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports June 9, 2019 at 1:25 pm “I am a roving gambler; I’ve gambled all around. “And wherever I see a deck of cards, I lay my money down.” Those lyrics testify to Americans’ long fascination with games of chance. Music researchers trace “I Am a Roving Gambler,” composer unknown, to 1909. Country singer Kelly Harrell recorded it in January 1925, six years before Nevada legalized most forms of gambling. Even when the song enjoyed a renewed spurt of popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, with recordings by the Brothers Four and several other artists, gamblers outside Nevada had to be content with underground games. That changed by 2013, when punk rocker Billie Joe Armstrong and jazz artist Norah Jones released their “Roving Gambler” duet more than a century after the song’s debut. Just as the bare-bones, hiss-filled recording by Harrell laid the groundwork for the crisp, multi-layered Armstrong-Jones collaboration (listen to it free on Spotify), legal gambling has evolved. Today’s roving gamblers can follow their passion to 460 commercial casino locations in 24 states and to 508 tribal casinos in 28 states, according to the American Gaming Association. Gambling has become an integral part of the U.S. economy. In 2017, commercial and Native American casinos provided almost 700,000 jobs directly, posted gross gaming revenue of almost $73 billion and paid almost $11 billion a year in gaming taxes and revenue-sharing to state and local governments, according to AGA and National Indian Gaming Association statistics. Americans spend more on casino gambling than on movies and digital music combined, more than on the four major professional sports combined. Despite that success – and the promise of continued growth as regulated sports and online betting expands – many casinos cling to a notion as outdated as a Victrola: that gamblers must be able to smoke wherever they play. As with other businesses open to the public, all casinos have an obligation to their customers and employees to provide a healthy place to play and work. That means banning smoking in casinos, just as it’s banned in almost all other businesses open to the public. The kneejerk reaction is that a smoking ban is a death sentence for a casino. A quick look around the country proves otherwise. A bit of a roving gambler myself, I recently combined a family trip with stops at these smoke-free casinos: MGM Springfield, a $960 million project opened in August 2018 Resorts World Catskills, a $1 billion resort opened in February 2018 Tioga Downs in Nichols, New York, which added a $39 million hotel and event center in December 2017 Rivers Schenectady (New York), a $330 million project opened in February 2017 I drove past Encore Boston Harbor, a $2.6 billion resort scheduled to open June 23. Unfortunately, the route didn’t allow for detours to Horseshoe Baltimore, a $442 million casino that opened in 2014, or MGM National Harbor, a $1.4 billion resort that opened in December 2016 outside Washington, D.C. After my return, a medical appointment took me to Cleveland, and I celebrated the outcome at Jack Casino in the heart of downtown. None of those allow smoking on the casino floor. Obviously, smoke-free casinos are profitable. Well-run companies are not investing millions and billions of dollars in losing propositions. Demonstrating that basic truth is a matter of education. Nationwide, nearly 800 casinos and other gambling venues are smoke-free by law or by choice, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, which combats the effects of secondhand smoke and smoking. ANR, which also sponsors a website devoted to the issue of smoke-free casinos, suggests that casinos survey customers about a smoking ban and provides a list of sample questions. In 2009, the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States adopted a resolution urging its members to encourage totally smoke-free gaming venues. Steve Geller, the council’s founder and past president, said it was the only time the group encouraged states to adopt a specific stance. He told CDC Gaming Reports that the measure is based on protecting casino workers’ health. Revenue might dip for a short time after a casino switches from smoking to non-smoking, Geller acknowledged, but new business from non-smokers more than makes up the difference. Representatives of two casinos that voluntarily banned smoking – the Palace in Biloxi, Mississippi, a commercial operation, and the Native American Ho-Chunk Casino in Madison, Wisconsin – attest to that. Legislatures and casinos throughout the country should follow their lead. Smoke-free entertainment venues and workplaces are the standard. Most Americans, including millennials and members of Generation Z whom the gaming industry desperately wants to attract, expect clean air when they go out. They should find it, even in places that appeal to the roving gambler in us.