A bill to ban smoking at the state’s two tribal casinos was snuffed out Tuesday when the legislature’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee decided not to bring it up for a vote.
Jack Edwards, a table dealer at Foxwoods Casino, said he was “disappointed.” But that he was equally resolved not to quit his job. He said the dealers will be back next year with a similar proposal to ban smoking in their workplace.
But even without a bill some feel progress has been made on the issue.
Last week, Foxwoods Casino owned by the Mashantucket Pequots reached an agreement with Gov. M. Jodi Rell, which seeks to ban smoking in most public areas including restaurants and entertainment venues. The Mohegan Tribe reached a similar agreement with Rell last year.
But Edwards said the recent agreement falls woefully short of eliminating secondhand smoke on the gaming floor. He said forcing smokers onto the gaming floor goes in the wrong direction.
Dave Cantor, a retired table dealer, said when a puff of smoke came his way all he was allowed to do was hold his breath. He said at least once he was informally reprimanded for using his inhaler at the table.
Both Edwards and Cantor agreed consolidating the smoking area will only make it worse for some employees.
Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Quaker Hill, said it’s too bad the bill didn’t make it out of committee because it would have eliminated secondhand smoke at the two casinos.
However, she said she did not envy the position the Finance Committee was in to evaluate the fiscal implications of the legislation.
The tribes threatened to put the states share of slot revenue into an escrow account if the General Assembly passed the smoking ban. The Mohegan Tribe claimed its revenues could dip from 10 to 20 percent if a smoking ban were put in place because gamblers would flock to casinos in nearby states.
As co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, Ritter said it was easy to evaluate the bill based on the public health issue.
“Studies show that passive smoke is as poisonous as smoking itself, making vital an eventual total ban,” Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in an emailed statement. “Half measures, such as filtering systems and partial prohibitions, are inadequate and unacceptable.”
Last week Ritter applauded the agreements Rell reached with the two tribes regarding designated smoking areas and ventilation systems.
“Our primary concern is protecting the health of the workers and it appears this agreement moves in that direction,” Ritter said last week. “This agreement serves as a testament on the willingness of both sides to work together without the need for legislation.”
Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, said by taking no action today the General Assembly, “have demonstrated a respect for the government-to-government relationship that has existed between the Mohegan Tribe and the state of Connecticut for generations. We commit to honor that relationship and to continue to work on issues of mutual concern.”
But Blumenthal, who is strongly opposed to smoking, vowed to continue his fight to implement a ban.
“My office will be alert in the session’s remaining weeks for any opportunity to revive the casino smoking ban.I hope to work with the tribal nations in broadening their welcome voluntary bans,” Blumenthal said.