Rhode Island Senate President Sparks Controversy over Smoking Restrictions in Casinos

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The ongoing debate over smoking on casino floors has reached new heights of contention, as Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has stirred up controversy with his remarks criticizing those advocating for restrictions on smoking in gaming areas.

In a weekly podcast called the Rhode Island Report, hosted by PBS and The Boston Globe, Ruggerio unleashed scathing comments directed at casino workers who have been calling for an end to smoking on the gaming floors.

The issue of indoor smoking in land-based casinos is fueled by a legal loophole that exempts them from the Public Health and Workplace Safety Act, allowing smoking to continue on their premises. Opponents of this exemption argue that it is time to put an end to it.

However, Ruggerio took a strong stance, suggesting that those who have concerns about their health should simply seek alternative employment. His words were laced with disdain as he stated, "Now, all of a sudden, there's a small group who feels that it's not good for their health."

Ruggerio's remarks, however, demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the well-established links between smoking, ill health, and the dangers of second-hand smoke. The scientific evidence supporting the harmful effects of smoking is grounded in rigorous research and cannot be dismissed by personal objections or flippancy.

Moreover, the issue at hand extends beyond the concerns of casino workers. Numerous guests and patrons have also voiced their discontent with the prevalence of smoking in casinos. In fact, a recent survey ranking the worst hotel services in the United States listed cigar odor as a key reason for negative reviews. Clearly, the demand for smoke-free environments transcends the interests of a specific group.

As a lawmaker and the Senate President, Ruggerio has a responsibility to advocate for the well-being of the people he represents. It is essential that he provides balanced opinions and considers the health implications associated with smoking in casinos. Claims suggesting that a lack of smokers would harm the financial viability of casino projects have been debunked by data, which shows that companies continue to thrive without catering to smoking patrons.

Supporters of Ruggerio's controversial remarks often cite the advances made in ventilation systems during the pandemic as a means of nullifying the impact of second-hand smoke. However, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers has explicitly stated that these claims are baseless. Ventilation systems do not effectively remove harmful particles, nor do they provide a safe environment for thousands of people, including casino employees, who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

In response to Ruggerio's comments, the Rhode Island Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) chapter condemned his remarks as disrespectful, incendiary, and ill-informed. They emphasize that blaming casino workers for accepting their jobs is a severe affront to those who form the backbone of the casino industry.

The controversy surrounding smoking in Rhode Island's casinos highlights the clash between public health concerns and the interests of the gaming industry. It is essential for lawmakers to consider the overwhelming evidence of the detrimental health effects of smoking and prioritize the well-being of both casino employees and patrons. Finding a solution that protects public health while addressing the concerns of all stakeholders is crucial for the future of Rhode Island's casino industry.

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