Smoking still not allowed in state's casinos
The Illinois Senate late Wednesday rejected a proposal that would have allowed patrons at the Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria or any of the state’s other casinos to smoke and gamble at the same time.
But the Senate subsequently approved other changes that attempt to clear up some of the questions about exactly how to implement and enforce the statewide ban on smoking in most indoor spaces.
The most recent version of Senate Bill 2707, which passed on a 35-16 vote, creates an exemption to permit universities to conduct tobacco research that involves people who smoke indoors.
It also details how individuals may appeal violations of the smoking ban. At present, accused violators can either pay a fine or fight it in court. The legislation specifies that people who want to contest a citation may attend a regional hearing at one of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s nine regional offices throughout the state.
To become law, the legislation still needs approval from the House of Representatives, as well as Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature.
Earlier Wednesday, the Senate Executive Committee voted 7-6 to exempt casinos from the Smoke Free Illinois Act.
Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson of Greenville sought to lift the smoking ban for casinos, which have seen revenues dip since the ban took effect. He attached his proposal as an amendment to SB2707.
The exemption would have remained in effect for five years, unless a neighboring state also outlawed smoking in casinos.
But Watson’s proposal hit a roadblock in the full Senate, where just 15 of 59 senators voted for his amendment. The outcome meant Watson’s amendment got stripped out of the rest of the bill.
Here is how central Illinois senators voted on the smoking exemption for casinos: Sens. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, no; Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, yes; Gary Dahl, R-Granville, no; Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlinville, no; David Koehler, D-Peoria, no; Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, yes; Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, no; John Sullivan, D-Rushville, no.
Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who is the lead sponsor of SB2707, opposed Watson’s effort, saying the smoking ban isn’t the reason for the drop in casino revenues.
"It’s the economy. It’s not the smoking," Link said.
Casino operators have put much of the blame for their revenue decline on the smoking ban, which forces smokers to leave a casino’s gambling area if they want to light up.
The Par-A-Dice, which is the only casino in central Illinois, has experienced a less dramatic decline. For the first three months of 2008, adjusted gross revenues there totaled about $30.3 million, which represents almost a 7 percent drop from the $32.5 million collected in the first three months of 2007.
David Strow, spokesman for Par-A-Dice owner Boyd Gaming, said "a difficult economy" and poor weather contributed to the lagging revenue picture for Illinois casinos.
But he added, "The smoking ban unquestionably played a role in that decline."
"We would be in favor of anything lawmakers could to do improve our competitive position versus other states," Strow said. "Casinos in states surrounding Illinois do not have to contend with the smoking ban."
Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or email@example.com.