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Editorial: Workers' safety should be worth more than ashes to casino owners

Nov. 18, 2010

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

Four years ago, Nevada voters strongly approved a ban on public smoking, but the ban was only able to exist if it included a provision that allowed smoking in casinos.

Recently, blackjack dealers and other casino workers, who are alarmed about the amount of secondhand smoke that exists in casinos, are pressing a $5 million federal class action lawsuit against the Wynn Las Vegas casino in order to force the hotel to protect casino workers who have to sit in smoke-misted rooms.

The casino workers do not expect smoking to be banned in the casinos, and the most that the plaintiff's lawyers are hoping for is the installation of high-technology air-cleansing devices to help clear the smoke.

Though smoking is a personal choice, it becomes a problem when it affects others.

Smoking should be banned in public places, including casinos, so that people who do not smoke cannot be harmed by the actions of others.

It is not likely that Las Vegas casinos will ban smoking anytime soon. Especially if it is anything like Atlantic City, which banned smoking in 2008 and lifted the ban a month later due to complaints from the city's casinos. Profit has proven to be a stronger incentive for casinos than the health of their employees.

While other places have strictly enforced smoking bans in order to keep others from the negative effects of secondhand smoke, it is painfully clear that casinos are not willing to sacrifice a dime to ensure the safety of their employees.

Those who do not support a smoking ban for Las Vegas casinos say that people who do not want to subject themselves to secondhand smoke could just not go to the casinos.

However, why should nonsmokers be denied the ability to gamble because of their non-smoking preference?

An article in the New York Times described how a woman who worked as a casino executive died of lung cancer at age 62, and her daughter said she was convinced that her mother had died of secondhand smoke.

Stephanie Steinberg, chairwoman of Smoke-Free Gaming, an organization of casino workers and patrons who are pressing casinos to ban smoking, said Nevada stands out among the other states with legalized gambling because it is has a relaxed stance on in-casino smoking.

South Dakota approved a voter initiative this month to ban smoking in commercial casinos, joining Colorado, Delaware, Illinois and Montana in passing complete or partial bans.

Steinberg said her organization uses the catch phrase "What happens in a casino stays in your lungs" to warn people about the dangers of secondhand smoke in casinos.

Because secondhand smoking kills people who did not make the decision to smoke, Las Vegas casinos should re-examine their decision to allow smoking.

Accommodating for all wouldn't be a trying task. Casinos could develop smoke-free areas for gambling within their casino or could provide zones where smoking is permitted.

However, the right to gamble is not as important as the casinos' employees' right to life. As a major economic factor in Nevada, the casino industry is also a major employer and many have nowhere else to work.

Providing cleaner air for casinos is not as important for the tourists looking to gamble as much as for the workers looking to make a living without endangering their lives in the process.