DES MOINES - State law made it illegal to light up in most public places in Iowa in 2008, but state-licensed casinos were given a pass.
Even before the statewide ban, there had been legislation introduced to ban smoking in casinos, but that - as anyone who has spent time in an Iowa casino probably knows - hasn’t caught on.
That could change this year as a result of a renewed push by anti-tobacco advocates who held a Capitol news conference and rally last week to show their support for a pair of bills that would take casinos off the exemption list.
The Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance also released the results of a poll it commissioned that found that 63 percent of Iowans surveyed want to see smoking banned in casinos. The gaming lobby has been opposed to banning smoking from their facilities.
Argosy Casino-Sioux City general manager Kees Eder said if the casino exemption goes away, about one-fourth of patrons will head for Native American casinos, such as operations in Sloan and Onawa, which aren’t subject to the Iowa laws.
“That would drastically reduce revenues,” he said, adding that allowing smoking on casino premises is an “incentive” for customers.
Senate File 283 is the Senate version of the bill. It was introduced by Republican Randy Feenstra of Hull on Tuesday. House File 21 is the House version of the bill, which was introduced in January by Democrat Mark Smith of Marshalltown.
Both bills are in subcommittees but must be out of committee by Friday to meet the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline to move bills for consideration.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t moved,” Smith said. “It seems like it makes sense with all the dangers we know about secondhand smoke. It really seems like a no-brainer.”
Meanwhile, the smoking ban seems to have at least one ally who will likely soon be a member of the executive branch.
At a confirmation hearing before the Senate Human Resources Committee on Wednesday, Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominee to head the Department of Public Health, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, threw her support behind banning smoking in casinos.
“If you all vote to push smoking out of casinos, we’ll make sure that happens,” Miller-Meeks said. She prefers education and prevention efforts to reduce smoking but added that “sometimes you have to pass laws.”
Miller-Meeks said raising the cigarette tax and banning smoking in the workplace probably has done more to reduce smoking than anything else.
Journal staff writer Bret Hayworth contributed to this report.