Friday, Jan. 16, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Even though smokers are not permitted to light up in casino restaurants, the secondhand smoke wafting over from the casino is still being breathed by diners, a UNLV study said.
Some of the 16 restaurants surveyed by the university found that despite the ban, there was still unsafe levels of secondhand smoke in the air, according to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Conducting the survey were UNLV assistant nursing professor Nancy York and Kiyoung Lee, associate professor of public health at the University of Kentucky.
The researchers divided their samples between on- and off-Strip casino restaurant and gaming areas in Henderson and Las Vegas. They tested eight on-Strip and eight off-Strip casino restaurant and gaming areas from November 2007 to March.
The restaurants had less secondhand smoke pollution than the casino gaming areas, but three-quarters of them contained air pollution levels exceeding the annual EPA’s recommendation for indoor air quality, the study said. To make matters worse, three of these 12 restaurants exceeded levels recommended by the EPA as safe for children, senior citizens and those with heart or lung diseases.
“Even though casino restaurants are supposed to be smoke-free by state law, the open air floor plan of casinos creates a shared air space, resulting in secondhand smoke migrating from the gaming floor into the restaurants and creating health hazards of secondhand smoke exposure to those present, whether it is workers or patrons,” said York, lead investigator. “Secondhand smoke naturally drifts in the air currents and ventilation systems can distribute secondhand smoke throughout a building.”
A 2006 UNR study that included 17,000 gamblers reported that 4 out of 5 casino patrons don’t smoke.
That same year, voters decided to enact the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which bars smoking in any public area children have access or where food is served. Under the law, casino gambling areas are exempt.
At the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States meeting Jan. 9 in Scottsdale, Ariz., the council approved a resolution supporting 100 percent smoke-free gaming venues.
The group successfully pushed for smoke-free gaming venues in Colorado and Illinois enacted a year ago.
A year after Illinois’ casinos barred smoking, revenue had dropped significantly, down 20.3 percent for 2008, according to a Chicago Tribune story in December.
“There’s a high correlation between smokers and gambling,” Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, told the Tribune. “Although the number of people coming to the casinos is about the same, the time they spend inside is down. They’re outside smoking. And in this business, if you’re not putting money in the machine or on the table — time is money.”
Gaming analyst Bill Lerner of Deutsche Bank said U.S. and international companies that have made the switch to nonsmoking casinos have seen at least a 10 percent decline in revenue in the first 12 months, and that’s money they can’t recover.
In a normal economic climate with fixed costs — which the casino industry experiences — that can translate to a 20 percent to 30 percent decline in cash flow, he said.
“When you’re already under duress because of the economy, like this industry is, that would be, I’d say, a death knell,” Lerner said. “You’d see some bankruptcies, because in some cases they’re close already to violating debt agreements ... and to push organic revenue down another 10 percent on top of that, it would be extremely problematic for the Nevada economy.”
From a fiscal perspective for the state, it would be almost as bad as if the teachers wanted to secure a 40 percent gaming tax increase, he said.
In Nevada, two casinos are nonsmoking, both in the north: the Fernley Nugget and Bill’s Casino Lake Tahoe.
The Nugget went nonsmoking last fall, while Harrah’s property hasn’t allowed smoking for about seven years.
Gaming companies, whether they will admit it or not, are already inching toward smoke-free gaming venues, said Stephanie Steinberg, chairwoman of the advocacy group, Smoke-Free Gaming.
She pointed to gaming companies’ evolving nonsmoking policies in showrooms, theaters, bowling alleys and poker rooms as examples of companies shifting from a must-smoke mind-set.
But don’t expect them to admit as much, she said.
Lerner said that in normal economic times, the state, when looking at casino smoking rules, would have to ask what the net effect of a ban would be.
“Health versus fiscal responsibility,” he said. “And that’s a difficult decision to make. Maybe ultimately in a normal economic environment there’s a happy medium and that’s perhaps a partial smoking ban (such as what was enacted in Atlantic City).”
In other health care news:
Centennial Hills Hospital, 6900 N. Durango Drive, is celebrating its one-year anniversary from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 20.
During the hospital’s celebration, there will be free blood pressure screenings, refreshments and giveaways.
Some interesting facts on the hospital’s first year of operation: More than 2,000 patients had surgery, 450-plus babies have been delivered and more than 28,000 patients were treated in the emergency department.
Inside that emergency department, a chest pain center has been established.
The hospital is also expected to open a Level 2 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the first quarter of 2009. Level 2 units provide care for babies born up to four weeks early, or full-term babies that need extra care.
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Central Recovery Treatment has opened a location at 600 Whitney Ranch Drive in Henderson.
Last year, the center, which treats substance abuse and addiction, as well as chronic pain, admitted 400 people to its programs from its main offices at 3371 and 3220 N. Buffalo Drive, said Josh Koop, spokesman for Central Recovery.
The center has been in operation for six years and offers inpatient and outpatient programs.
Nicole Lucht covers health care, workplace and banking issues for In Business Las Vegas. She can be reached at 259-8832 or at [email protected]