Saint Joseph’s council again rejects smoking ban inside casinos

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(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A local council member vows to walk away from his fight to have St. Jo Frontier Casino converted to 100% smoke-free.

Following another failed attempt on Monday, St. Joseph City Councilor PJ Kovac said he was done.

“I’m not going to keep beating a dead horse,” Kovac said. “If you don’t have the votes, then that’s it.”

Kovac proposed a ban in November, but presented the second proposal before it was voted on by the Council. A working session was called Monday to discuss the issue again. But failed after a consensus vote showed five board members opposed.

Kovac said he was not surprised by Monday’s vote.

“That’s what happened the last time. The council decided to put the income on the people, ”he said. “Someone called me and told me he used to go to bars and smoke and quit. He hadn’t been to the Casino in years, he’d walked in and pretty much died.

Representatives from the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association spoke out in favor of Kovac’s proposal during the session, highlighting how dangerous exposure to second-hand smoke is to employees and customers of the hospital. casino.

“Having a non-smoking section in a restaurant, bar, or casino is like having a wee section in a swimming pool,” said Maura Gray of the Heart Association.

Public health concerns prompted advocates to act to ban smoking in indoor public places in 2014. Residents of St. Joseph voted in favor of the city-wide ban that created a exception for the casino.

Another public health advocate, Jamie Baker, answered questions from the board on why the casino got an exception. Baker, a community policy specialist with the Missouri Department of Health and Seniors Services, provides assistance to community coalitions campaigning for smoke-free cities. She was part of the 2014 campaign to pass the measure and explained that the casino exception was strategic.

“There was no way the Coalition could have waged any campaign against a casino,” Baker said. “It was a very, very difficult decision, but it was a decision that was made by the Coalition to try to get 95 percent of our workforce to be protected from secondhand smoke.”

Councilor Russell Moore said he viewed the exception as an error, but one that could not be corrected by a council order. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did and I’m not sure you can take a second apple bite, Moore said.

Many council members noted that because voters approved the smoking ban except, it would not be fair to enact an ordinance overturning that vote.

“We would have to vote for the people,” said Mayor Bill McMurray. “I wouldn’t do it at the board level.”

In an informal vote at the close of the meeting, McMurray and Councilor Madison Davis both abstained from voting because Kovac had not presented a specific voting measure or language. Council members Kent O’Dell, Marty Novak, Gary Roach, Brenda Blessing and Moore voted against continuing the ban. Councilor Brian Myers was absent and Kovac was the only one to vote in favor.

The resulting vote was good news for the managers of the St. Jo Frontier Casino. The vice president and general manager of the casino, Michael Tramburelli, spoke out against the ban on smoking in casinos during the working session. He argued that a quick glance at the local market offered a good reason to continue to allow smoking in the casino.

“Kansas City allows smoking. White Cloud allows smoking. It is within our purview, ”said Tramburelli. “It is very simple that we are at a disadvantage compared to the competition.”

Association representatives argued that while the local market allowed smoking, many casinos across the country continued to make money after converting to smoke-free spaces.

An argument that Kovac found convincing, but not others.

“There are 200 casinos that started smoking during the pandemic and remained smoke-free when the regulations were passed and they are doing well,” Kovac said. “I just think they worry about the income and they don’t care who dies from it.”



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