Casino smoking ban gets snuffed

A bill to ban smoking in casinos went up in smoke today.

The measure was tossed on its head when the Senate voted 18-17 to amend the measure, requiring casinos to go smoke free when cigar bars and the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport join the crowd of workplaces where smoking is banned.

Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, won his bid to alter the face of the bill, arguing the new statewide smoking ban should extend to every workplace and should not be allowed to carve out „winners or losers.“

„We have invented the system regarding the smoking ban of have and have-nots,“ Hagedorn said. „Let’s not have winners or losers in this discussion and perhaps what I’ve done will provide leverage to move for an across the board ban.“

The measures’ backers cried foul and vowed to fight to strip the „poison-pill“ they say effectively guts House Bill 1269, which extends the statewide smoking enacted in July to casinos. The Senate is expected to cast its final vote on the measure next week.

Denver Democrats Sen. Ken Gordon and Rep. Anne McGihon counted on at least 20 senators to back the bill. They argued that casino employees deserve the same protection from second-hand that workers receive in restaurants and bars and most workplaces.

Four Democrats joined Republicans to amend the measure, with Sen. Able Tapia, D-Pueblo, emerging as the deciding vote.

„This is about 8,000 casino employees and their health,“ McGihon said, visibly stunned. „It’s about the cost to the state in employees lost work time and in health care bills when those 8,000 employees get all the diseases related to second-hand smoke.“

But some Democratic and Republican lawmakers blasted the measure, saying it infringes on gamblers‘ personal freedoms to light up and that it would cost the state at least USD 15 million in gaming tax revenue.

Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, an ardent opponent of the smoking ban, argued that gamblers who want to smoke while playing the slots will simply hop on a plane to Las Vegas to spend their money. A Senate committee snuffed a measure by Tochtrop this year that would have lifted the ban on neighborhood bars by allowing them to pay more for a liquor license to opt out of the smoking ban.

„What’s good for cigar bars is good for casinos,“ Tochtrop said.