In search of a smoke-free casino? Park MGM and NoMad will be the first on Las Vegas Strip

LAS VEGAS – When MGM Resorts reopens its last shuttered property on the Strip, guests won’t be able light up cigars or cigarettes at card tables or slot machines.

Park MGM and NoMad will reopen Sept. 30 as the only smoke-free resort on Las Vegas Boulevard.

The properties will have three designated smoking areas: 

“As we looked toward our reopening,” Park MGM COO Anton Nikodemus said in a statement, “we identified an opportunity to be responsive to recurring guest demand for a fully non-smoking casino resort on the Strip.”

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When the Park MGM casino reopens Sept. 30 in Las Vegas, patrons will find notices informing them it will be the Strip's only smoke-free property.
When the Park MGM casino reopens Sept. 30 in Las Vegas, patrons will find notices informing them it will be the Strip’s only smoke-free property.

Law protects smoking in casinos, but resorts have choice

Amid the contagious illness that’s killed almost 195,000 people across the country, smoking inside casinos has resurfaced as a make-or-break detail for tourists planning post-pandemic vacations.

Lighting up at card tables and slot machines is protected by Nevada law, making it difficult for government officials to ban smoking in casinos. Casinos have the choice to allow it inside their properties or not. 

Police officers on bicycles patrol the empty Las Vegas Strip on April 9, 2020.
Police officers on bicycles patrol the empty Las Vegas Strip on April 9, 2020.

Though the Silver State launched the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act in 2006, the law doesn’t quite apply to the Strip.

The law outlines where people can smoke indoors in Nevada, as opposed to where they can’t – and the list where smoking is acceptable is a long one:

  • Strip clubs and brothels

  • Tobacco stores

  • Stand-alone bars and taverns that are 21 and over

  • Any area inside casinos where loitering of minors is prohibited, typically near gaming tables and slot machines

  • Some convention centers

  • Outside areas of restaurants

In May, a resident wrote in an email to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that she would never step foot inside a casino if people are allowed to smoke during the pandemic.  

“The Legislature has specifically stated that smoking is not prohibited in casinos, and the statute even includes a provision that states any regulation inconsistent with that would be null and void,” Nevada Chief Deputy Attorney General Darlene Caruso said. “The board’s hands are tied.” 

Vegas has long been resistant to smoking bans

For many years, casino executives argued a smoking ban would derail gaming in Nevada, pointing to revenue losses in Atlantic City, Delaware and Illinois, where such bans siphoned the smoke out of casinos and gaming establishments.

“Historically, other jurisdictions that have banned smoking in casinos have seen revenues fall by about 15% in the short term,” said University of Nevada-Las Vegas gambling expert David Schwartz.

A study commissioned by the Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks Chambers of Commerce in the late 1990s predicted dire consequences if smoking became banned in casinos, according to The Associated Press.

Gamblers would leave tables for 12 minutes every hour to light up, the study said. Those smoke breaks would add up to significant losses: 

  • A $1.9 billion loss to the casino industry over five years.

  • A sales tax loss of $50 million the first year.

  • The loss of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs the first year.

What science says about smoking, COVID-19

Meilan Han, a pulmonary specialist at Michigan Medicine and professor at the University of Michigan, told USA TODAY that although most of the research about the novel coronavirus suggests older people are more likely to be hospitalized and die of the disease, there are other factors that put younger people at risk.

“People have been hypothesizing as to what some of the risk factors might be. We don’t have a lot of published data from the U.S., so we’re looking to the little bits of published data that are coming out of China,” Han said. “What they’re seeing is that one of the risk factors … does appear to be smoking.”

One report suggests that smokers have 14 times the risk of severe illness from a COVID-19 infection than nonsmokers, she said.

“We don’t have a lot of data on vaping right now, but there is reason to potentially hypothesize that things that cause lung inflammation like smoking, like vaping might increase the risk for more severe disease,” she said.

Contributing: USA TODAY, The Associated Press. 

Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here

This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette Journal: Smoke-free Las Vegas casinos: Park MGM, NoMad will be the first