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COLUMBUS — Smokers couldn’t come to the slot machines, so Hollywood Casino Toledo wants to take the slot machines to the smokers.
Ohio’s strict ban on smoking in enclosed public places was already law in 2009 when voters wrote Ohio’s first four casinos in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati into the state constitution. The casinos didn’t seek an exemption then, and Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Hollywood Casino, insists it isn’t looking for one now.
Instead, Penn this week approached the Ohio Casino Control Commission with the idea of converting its existing partially open second-floor smoking decks at their Toledo and Columbus casinos into gaming space.
Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati is further along in its discussions with the commission, but its plan involves the creation of a new outdoor gaming and smoking area.
Matt Schuler, the commission’s executive director, said existing law and commission rules already cover the designation of new gaming space.
“It does not make a difference [that the space is outdoors],” he said. “They want to add gaming space. The current law and rules we have are adequate to be able to properly address that.”
The commission’s concern, he said, remains with the security, surveillance, and machine integrity of the new space, even if a couple of walls are missing.
There has been no discussion about placing table games in the outdoor space, which would involve other variables and elements of risk that would have to be addressed, Mr. Schuler said.
Penn spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said the move is consistent with what racetrack slots parlors, or “racinos,” have done under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Lottery Commission.
“We will be opening our two [video lottery terminal] facilities at Dayton on Aug. 28 and Mahoning Valley on Sept. 17,” he said. “They will open with VLTs installed on the smoking decks.”
Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway replaces Toledo’s Raceway Park. Penn had Raceway’s harness-racing license transplanted south so its planned slots parlor wouldn’t compete with its riverfront Hollywood Casino.
Voters in 2006 approved a law that, with few exceptions, prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, clubs, and other enclosed workplaces frequented by the public. It remains one of the strictest bans in the nation.
But under the law, food and drink are served on outdoor patios at some restaurants and bars where smoking is permitted. Service would also overflow from the casinos onto the smoking decks if the gaming area extends there.
“It’s not something we would have encouraged them to do, but it’s within the law, obviously,” said Shelly Kaiser, Ohio advocacy director for the American Lung Association, a backer of the law.
The concern, she said, is that more opportunities and locations for smoking will encourage smoking at a time when a number of outdoor public venues already exempted from the smoking ban are voluntarily going smoke-free.
The casinos expected Ohio’s ban to have some impact on their bottom lines, particularly in Toledo where commercial and tribal casinos across the border in Michigan are exempted from that state’s weaker smoking ban.
“Competition is a concern, but that is not a subject of discussion with us. …,” Mr. Schuler said. “We are specifically focused on game integrity and security of the space.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.