Don’t gamble with lives of casino workers

Posted 5/25/22

To the Editor,

About 200,000 people live in the areas of Rhode Island covered by Beacon Communications, publisher of the Warwick Beacon, the Cranston Herald and the Johnston Sun Rise. I have no …

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Don’t gamble with lives of casino workers


To the Editor,

About 200,000 people live in the areas of Rhode Island covered by Beacon Communications, publisher of the Warwick Beacon, the Cranston Herald and the Johnston Sun Rise. I have no idea how many of those folks read the Beacon’s newspapers and may read this letter, but I’m hopeful most do.

I also wonder how many of those 200,000 people are non-smokers and how many of them visit Bally’s Twin River Casino or its Tiverton casino on occasion.

Assuming about 25% of that population are under the age of 21 and unlikely to visit the casinos, that leaves 75%, or 150,000 adults, who may decide once in awhile to throw away a few dollars while chancing a big win at the casinos’ slots machines or table games. National health statistics tell us that only about 12% of those 150,000 people are smokers. So, over 130,000 are non-smokers.

According to the American Gaming Association, 49% of American adults say they will visit a casino in the next twelve months. That means of the 130,000 non-smoking adults in the Beacon’s coverage area, about 64,000 will visit a casino this year, most likely the closest one—Bally’s Twin River.

Now to the main point of this letter: Workers at Twin River Casino and Tiverton Casino are desperate! Bally’s casino management decided to return indoor smoking to the casinos about six weeks ago after having banned it for 16 months during the pandemic. While casino visitors have the option of gambling in the small non-smoking areas or not visiting the casinos at all, casino workers have no choice. They are exposed to the carcinogens in second-hand smoke—environmental tobacco smoke, or ETS—that has been recognized since 1993 as a severe carcinogenic health hazard by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Rhode Island requires its casinos to comply with air quality standards outlined by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Yet that organization has clearly stated that “there is no currently available…ventilation or air cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke” in casinos.

Even politicians in Rhode Island—almost invariably behind the times in cutting edge legislation—passed the Public Health and Workplace Safety Act in 2005 to protect workers from second-hand smoke by banning smoking in stores, restaurants, bars and offices. Foolishly—because they only saw dollar signs from casino taxes—our politicians decided to allow smoking to continue at Twin River Casino (and now at Tiverton) and relegate casino workers to continued ingestion of carcinogens. This was wrong on so many levels.

Rhode Island now has a chance to correct the politicians’ mistake of 2005. House Bill H7855 would include casinos in the smoking ban, thus protecting both the public and casino workers.

Passing the bill is a no-brainer for our politicians! If store, restaurant and office workers are worthy of protection from carcinogens, then why aren’t casino workers? Is the collection of a few more tax dollars worth the destruction of casino workers’ health and the resulting cost to the state in public medical assistance (these workers aren’t wealthy; many rely on medical assistance from taxpayers).

And what about simple morality? It is flat-out immoral to purposely continue the exposure of a worker group to a cancer-causing environment.

Where is the casino workers’ union on this? Is it hiding under a rock? Isn’t it supposed to help protect its members? I’ve seen nothing in the papers lately about General Teamsters Local Union 251 weighing in on the issue of its members’ continued exposure to carcinogens. Is the union taking members’ dues without properly representing them?

Bally’s Twin River/Tiverton management should realize that probably more people would visit its casinos were they completely smoke-free. Why would Bally’s senior managers want to cater to the tiny 12% of the population that smoke? Surely, they would rake in more money if they instead catered to non-smokers. And the state would likely enjoy the windfall of even more casino tax dollars.

I am one of the many people who occasionally visit Twin River Casino and I’m a non-smoker. Since the casino reintroduced indoor smoking, I will now visit less frequently—perhaps not at all. Driving a bit farther to a smoke-free casino in Massachusetts or Connecticut is looking better all the time.

Please contact your state representative and state senator and implore them to support passage of H7855 and its eventual counterpart bill in the state senate. How can any politician, in good conscience, allow the casinos to continue inflicting health problems upon their employees?

Lonnie Barham


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