Valley View, as well as Sycuan and Pala, created enclosed smoke-free areas in their casinos. 
Anti-smoke advocates aren’t satisfied.
  • Valley View, as well as Sycuan and Pala, created enclosed smoke-free areas in their casinos. Anti-smoke advocates aren’t satisfied.
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In a gambling casino, you can lose your shirt — and worse, your health. That’s why several groups are working on California’s Indian casinos to go smoke-free. Many such casinos, particularly in San Diego County, have enclosed rooms or areas that are nonsmoking.

But the reformers want 100 percent smoke-free. “In California, patrons are not allowed to smoke anywhere else indoors,” points out Narinder Dhaliwal, project director of California’s Clean Air Project. Why can’t laws that apply to other businesses also apply to Indian casinos?

The major reason is that the tribes have sovereignty, but “the reality is that only Congress has the authority to regulate the tribes and thereby the casinos,” says Nikki Symington, a public relations consultant for San Diego–area tribes. My sources don’t know of any significant push toward casino smoke regulations gaining momentum on Capitol Hill. That’s hardly surprising. Las Vegas casinos are veritable smokehouses, and Nevada’s Senator Harry Reid is senate majority leader.

Phil Toomire, who lives in the Temecula/Murrieta area, is annoyed by the smoke-filled atmosphere when he visits casinos, which isn’t often. He wrote Chuck Washington, mayor pro tem of Temecula (now mayor) about the smoke at the Pechanga Casino. “The casino operates under the jurisdiction of a private corporation on tribal lands and the City exercises no authority over any part of its operation,” Washington wrote back.

Rudy Prieto, Pechango’s general manager, wrote Toomire that the casino could not put in a separate nonsmoking room, but “I can assure you that we have the most modern, effective air circulating system in the country.”

But air-circulation/ventilation systems and nonsmoking rooms don’t satisfy reformers or medical experts. There are only two smoke-free Indian casinos in California, says Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights in Berkeley. Those casinos are both up north: Win-River in Redding and Lucky Bear in Humboldt County.

There is a false perception that most gamblers are smokers, say the reformers. It’s based on the notion that someone addicted to gambling will also be addicted to tobacco, says Hallett. For years, casino owners argued that 70 percent of gamblers were smokers. But in 2006, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, studied the habits of 17,723 gamblers. Only 20.9 percent of them were smokers — about the same as the national average. (Only 11.9 percent of California adults smoke.) The exception in the study was at rural casinos, where the percentage was 36.5. The research suggests that if casinos were made smoke-free, business would not suffer.

Health is a major factor. Last year, scientists at Stanford and Tufts universities published a study in the journal Environmental Research. They examined 66 smoky casinos in five states and three that were smoke-free. Key finding: less than two hours of exposure to secondhand smoke in half the surveyed casinos was enough to impair the heart’s ability to pump blood, placing casino patrons and workers at acute risk of heart disease. The study was a continuation of earlier research at 36 California casinos and 30 in other states.

About 8 percent of people between ages 45 and 64, and 20 percent of those above 65, have coronary heart disease. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine released a report indicating that secondhand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. That same year, a report in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that 6 out of every 10,000 casino workers in Pennsylvania will die each year from secondhand smoke exposure. That compares with 1.2 deaths per 10,000 mine workers in the state. Smoky casinos have 50 times more cancer-causing particles in the air “than highways and city streets clogged with diesel trucks in rush-hour traffic,” says Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

Patrons of San Diego–area Indian casinos tend to be older, says Symington. “Most casinos are sensitive to their guests. You see people there with oxygen tanks.”

So San Diego casinos have made some strides, says Susan Jensen of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association in Sacramento. Valley View, Sycuan, and Pala have enclosed nonsmoking gambling rooms. Viejas has a nonsmoking poker area, Barona has a nonsmoking poker room, and Harrah’s Rincon has a nonsmoking area on the casino floor. Some are accessible from the outside, and in others the patron has to walk through the smoking area to get to the nonsmoking location. But no San Diego–area Indian casino is smoke-free, so dangerous particulates can find their way into nonsmoking areas.

The smoke-filled casino floors annoy many visitors. On, where consumers rate restaurants, entertainment venues, and the like, one woman from Boston called Viejas “a smoke pit.” The casino room “smelled like heaven’s ash tray.” She added, “I feel like I should go to the ER for an x-ray of my chest. Seriously, I think I got lung cancer in one hour.” Other San Diego casinos get similar stinky reviews, but few are as harsh as hers.

Some casinos, such as Pechanga, boast about their air-circulation/ventilation systems. “Ventilation systems may improve odor, but do not remove the serious health risks caused by secondhand smoke exposure,” says Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “Casino workers even in a ‘well-ventilated’ casino have [metabolized nicotine] levels 300 percent to 600 percent higher than employees in other smoking workplaces during a work shift.”

Dhaliwal of California’s Clean Air Project is holding a seminar on Indian casino smoking February 1 at the Morongo Casino near Palm Springs. A smoke-free environment is good for customers and good for employees and their health benefits. It also reduces “cleaning and maintenance costs,” she says. “My hope is that tribal casinos will go smoke-free rather than have designated nonsmoking areas. We are making headway."

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Ponzi Jan. 25, 2012 @ 11:15 a.m.

I would like to play at the local casinos but cannot stand the smoke. Having to walk through it to the “non-smoking area” is nauseating. The non-smoking section also does not offer the breadth and depth of games the smoker enjoy. So I am a potential customer that never patronizes casinos due to smoke.

I recall when people could smoke on airplanes, the office or in restaurants and it reminded me of this line; “Having a smoking section in a restaurant is like having peeing section in a swimming pool.”


Don Bauder Jan. 25, 2012 @ 11:42 a.m.

Good analogy. Smoking sections in airlines were a joke. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 25, 2012 @ 12:29 p.m.

Secondhand smoke is deadly, and Miracosta students seem to realize that. Best, Don Bauder


pk2mire Jan. 25, 2012 @ 11:39 a.m.

I'm the Phil Toomire that Mr. Bouder mentions in this article. Just a couple minor corrections to Mr. Bauder's story. Pala Casino took out their Non-Smoking Room, but has a Non-Smoking "Area" within their casino, which has absolutely no effect on the smoke entering that area When I first contacted Mr. Bauder, I mentioned to him that I'd like to initiate a "Boycott" one day a week against the casinos. Have the Non-Smoking patrons stay away for one day, and see if the Indian Tribes get the message when they start losing money on those days. If they refuse to consider implimenting a Non-Smoking rule, then increase it to more than one day. Sooner or later, they have to get the message. I hope Mr. Bauder's message will wake up the Tribal Nation, and that they'll comply with our California Non-Smoking laws.


TopangaRose May 25, 2016 @ 4:48 p.m.

If these people are gambling in casinos with that much smoke, they will NOT be available for a boycott. TopangaRose


Don Bauder Jan. 25, 2012 @ 11:45 a.m.

Non-smoking areas are meaningless, as the column notes. Boycotts might have some effect, but how many gamblers would participate? Best, Don Bauder


MURPHYJUNK Jan. 25, 2012 @ 1:13 p.m.

Its interesting ( or a shame depending on how we look at it) that the casinos can pick and choose what state laws they want to follow.


Don Bauder Jan. 25, 2012 @ 2:02 p.m.

The tribes and their casinos are sovereign, although the federal government does have some control over them. One thing I didn't get into in the column is that Connecticut a couple of years ago tried to enforce state no-smoking laws on the Indian casinos there. I was trying to find out what happened when I realized I had run out of room anyway, so I don't know how the case was resolved. I would bet a stogie that Connecticut either lost or dropped the matter before it got much further. Best, Don Bauder


Vincent Jan. 25, 2012 @ 3:41 p.m.

When will America get over the hypocrisy? Tobacco smoke harms one's health in the short term, and KILLS people in the long term. This isn't some alarmist's assertion; it is a proven, well-known fact. And it happens in America's Indian casinos exactly as it happens in the rest of the country (where most states at least have some laws to protect workers and innocent bystanders from other people's smoke). Yet, throughout our country, tobacco distribution and use is still legal, and it's also legal to export this death to other countries. (I understand Marlboros are one of the most popular cigarettes in China...)

So why do our laws permit tobacco sale, distribution, and use--while, at the same time, government agencies are closing down medical marijuana distributors operating within the laws of the states in which they are located? Marijuana has never been shown to be a serious threat to health (or life) when used in any quantity (within reason).

The answer to it all is money--or more exactly, callous greed. Our government--and the businesses that run gambling operations, including Indian casinos and Las Vegas casinos--don't care very much about whether people die from tobacco use or exposure. What they do care about is business profits and tax revenues. Any claim of protecting the public health is spurious--it takes a back seat (WAY back...) to making money. It's shocking that the American public stands idly by while the country's government encourages those who profit from death-dealing tobacco, while claiming to be "protecting" the populace from the trumped up (and unproven) "evils" of medical marijuana.

This needs to change.


Don Bauder Jan. 25, 2012 @ 5 p.m.

I have never sampled marijuana, so know little about it, but I do agree that the hot pursuit of the medical marijuana industry seems hard to justify when the government permits the tobacco industry and all manner of white collar crooks to do whatever they like without any fear of legal interference. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 25, 2012 @ 9:12 p.m.

Granted that the medical marijuana movement is largely, BUT NOT ENTIRELY a cover for people who just want to get high.

But SO WHAT? The enforcement causes far more harm than the plant every has.

Still, I can tell you that it is a godsend for pain sufferers. I don't like to smoke, but would like to be able to legally grow my own supply. It's far, far safer than the other pain killers, which are nowhere near as effective.

Glad to know that you're painless, Don.


Don Bauder Jan. 26, 2012 @ 7:25 a.m.

I agree with your main point, Twister. Yes, there are abuses in medical marijuana. But is it worth putting so much public money into chasing this industry? For that matter, the entire war on drugs has been largely a waste of money. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 26, 2012 @ 1:52 p.m.

Oops! My intended main point was the one you made, Don. Thanks.

The other point was that there is at least one legitimate use that could reduce a lot of misery, but the drug companies would rather sell us highly expensive and dangerous drugs instead.

I guess, like any other "protection" racket, we'll have to find a way to pay them off. My doctor would prescribe weed if the HMO would let him. The conundrum is that the drug companies could not maintain a monopoly on a common weed that is easy to grow in warm climates/seasons.


Don Bauder Jan. 26, 2012 @ 3:14 p.m.

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies in many if not most cases are searching for a drug that will thwart the disease, not merely ease the symptoms by lessening pain. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 27, 2012 @ 2:20 p.m.

Look at the EVIDENCE.

How much money does Big Pharma make on pain killers and other drugs that are primarily directed at symptoms as distinguished from "thwarting the disease."


Don Bauder Jan. 27, 2012 @ 5:03 p.m.

I don't have those numbers at my fingerprints, and in trying to calculate that, so much would depend on the definition of treating symptoms and trying to cure the disease. Best, Don Bauder


TopangaRose May 25, 2016 @ 5:06 p.m.

Hi Twister! Look at Cannabis and Hydrocodone: the regulations are transparent. The legslators will tolerate these remedies, BUT only on the condititon that YOU GET NO PLEASURE from the remedy. A few years back fleet enemas were taken off the market b/c some guys got sexual pleasure from it. Screw the many many people having a medical procedure that now have to drink nearly 20 gallons of gross liquids to clear their intestines before having a colonoscopy. The state will not allow pleasure to be a factor. Talk about minorities/majorities! MOST people will at some time or another will need to have a colonoscopy.


Visduh Jan. 26, 2012 @ 7:57 a.m.

The point here seems to be that the tribes and their casino operators do believe that most gamblers are smokers. The stereotype of the older and overweight smoker and drinker as the mainstay of the business may still be true. Go into one of those casinos here or in Nevada, and you'll find that it is not populated with sleek sophisticated folks in tuxedos and gowns sipping vintage French champagne. No, it is so far from that as to be in a different universe.

The usual picture is of an elderly, grim-faced overweight woman with a cigarette going and a rum and coke at hand, sitting in front of a slot machine pushing money into it as fast as possible. I mean, how many casino-goers even seem to be having fun?

The best chance for reform in that area is to outlaw smoking because of its occupational hazards. Congress might actually take that up.


dwbat Jan. 26, 2012 @ 8:16 a.m.

Even Las Vegas (originally established by Mormons) may eventually ban smoking in casinos and restaurants. The hotel/casinos now make more profit from their high-end shops than they do from gambling. And the best reason to visit Vegas is the spectacular shows, not the gambling nor the ability to smoke inside a casino.


Don Bauder Jan. 26, 2012 @ 10:41 a.m.

Yeah, dwbat, but gambling provides a lot of casinos' revenues, and some of that money gets skimmed and sent to offshore tax havens. Visduh makes good points in post above. Best, Don Bauder


nokomisjeff Jan. 27, 2012 @ 5:34 a.m.

Public companies skim money off the top?


Don Bauder Jan. 27, 2012 @ 1:28 p.m.

Yes, both public and private companies skim. Jeff, you have been around long enough to know the accounting scams pulled by public companies. Best, Don Bauder


nokomisjeff Jan. 27, 2012 @ 7:03 p.m.

Don, I was just busting your chops. Interesting paper on money laundering. Flawed, outdated, and incomplete, but still a good read.


Don Bauder Jan. 28, 2012 @ 7:46 a.m.

I couldn't bring up the paper, but I should be able to find it online. Money laundering goes on by the trillions of dollars, but by and large, only the small fry are caught. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 26, 2012 @ 10:38 a.m.

My guess is that you are right. Casino owners, both Indian tribes and the Vegas entrepreneurs, probably laugh at academic studies showing that gamblers have no higher incidence of smoking than the general population. There has to be some reason why only 2 Indian casinos in California are genuinely smoke-free. I wouldn't expect Congress to step on Vegas casino owners' toes. After all, Vegas's Merv Adelson and his wife gave $10 million to Gingrich. Every year, Vegas casinos are major donors to politicians. Best, Don Bauder


Burwell Jan. 27, 2012 @ 10:05 p.m.

Skimming is rampant among executives at public corporations. Many executives take kickbacks from Chinese vendors who manufacture their employer's products. The Chinese always offer kickbacks as a courtesy. The Chinese also provide exotic women to executives who travel to China on company business.


Don Bauder Jan. 28, 2012 @ 7:47 a.m.

Those Chinese kickbacks would be a great subject for a major investigation. Best, Don Bauder


Facebook Jan. 31, 2012 @ 11:18 a.m.

Tommy S. says: What's next? Do I have to climb to the top of a 50 foot ladder to have a square? How about I'm tired of watching people over-feed their kids to the point of sickness while others right here in the good old USA starve. Why don't we make McDonald's illegal? Heart disease and diabetes are killing more Americans than 2nd hand smoke. How about we have 18.5 million empty homes and 3 million homeless in this country. Congress has a 13% approval rate-the lowest ever-because our lawmakers as so out of touch as to think frightening us about our health will distract from all the restrictive laws they are attempting to force upon us.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 11:25 a.m.

The manufacturers of 50-foot ladders think Tommy S.'s suggestion is a good one. Those manufacturers will lobby Congress for a bill mandating use of 50-foot ladders when pursuing pleasure; probably they will write the legislation. Best, Don Bauder


Facebook Jan. 31, 2012 @ 11:20 a.m.

Gina says: Even tho there is a dinky room in comparison to the rest of the casino for non-smokers to gamble, we usually have to pass through the stench of smoke to get to our mini sanctuary of fun.... We need to reverse that!

I have never had an asthma or heart attack sitting next to someone who is over eating at a fast food restaurant~

I also don't understand why the food courts or restaurants in the casinos lead out to or are open to the smoking section. Maybe they need to split the casino in half, equally and the food service in the non-smoking areas.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 11:29 a.m.

That's the problem with San Diego area casinos. Even the enclosed non-smoking rooms are invaded by secondhand smoke. Actually, this discussion goes to the heart of democracy and the rights of minorities. If 80% of the people don't smoke, should they be able to dictate conditions to the 20% who do? Best, Don Bauder


Facebook Jan. 31, 2012 @ 12:25 p.m.

Matthew D: i love to gamble and smoke at the same time. a casino is a vacation to me. it puts me in an environment that i desire. one that is without the whining of non smokers. everywhere else in society, i play nice. i don't smoke in your restaurants. i legally have to smoke 25 feet away from your doorways and bus stops. i enjoy the experience of chain smoking and binge drinking and gambling. why don't we just set up a mini casino outside for the whiny non smokers? and a gym outside for the ham beasts so they don't get as many asthma attacks around cigarette smoke.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 3:35 p.m.

I don't share any of your proclivities -- smoking, drinking, gambling -- but I respect your forthrightness. A mini-casino completely apart from the main casino might satisfy some of the reformers, as long as secondhand smoke couldn't penetrate it. Best, Don Bauder


StewieGriffin Jan. 2, 2014 @ 12:34 a.m.

Why should non-smokers have the mini-casinos? If 80% of the adult population are non-smokers, build the mini-casinos for the whiny smokers.


Facebook Jan. 31, 2012 @ 12:26 p.m.

Bacon Bits says: Smoking is disgusting. Hopefully this will come to Nevada soon too.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 3:36 p.m.

I think Nevada will be the last state to clean up its act -- in smoking, prostitution, financial finagling, multifarious vices. Best, Don Bauder


Facebook Jan. 31, 2012 @ 2:01 p.m.

Jamie L. says: I don't really think someone who hangs in a casino should judge anyone else's compulsions or addictions.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 3:38 p.m.

Smoking and gambling are repugnant to me, but I agree there are other compulsions and addictions that are worse. Best, Don Bauder


Facebook Jan. 31, 2012 @ 2:01 p.m.

Nicholas T. says: Bottomline: someone's addiction shouldn't mess with another's non-addiction. Eating, smoking, gambling, if you're going to do it, do it with consideration of others....quit being self-centered.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 3:50 p.m.

I'm old enough to remember the days when people smoked almost anywhere they wanted -- well, maybe not in church. After a meal at a fancy restaurant, the waiter would bring you a selection of cigars to smoke with your dessert and coffee. Cigarettes, pipes, cigars were ubiquitous. I'm glad I didn't live in the days when spittoons were everywhere, and men (and some women) chewed tobacco all day. In my younger days working in the street and sewer department, the laborers chewed tobacco all day, and some chewed away constantly on an unlit cigar in their mouths. I always wondered how much their wives looked forward to a kiss in the evening. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 31, 2012 @ 6:30 p.m.

I was raised by two smokers, mostly in a small apartment. My mother smelled like an ash tray when she tucked me in and kissed me. She aged before her time.

My father died of cancer and gambled away the family fortune on the Las Vegas crap tables. He was a wonderful guy. When sober.

In my youth, I smoked cigars and a pipe for a while. Drunkeness was such a bad experience I limited myself to a beer or a glass of wine with a meal, and in the old days to sippin' whisky or tequila. Now I'm entirely off all alcohol. Ticker trouble.

My parents demonstrated the evils of addiction, sacrificing themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, to educate me.

I am actually allergic to tobacco. I'm acutely sensitive to fine particulates of any kind.

Eugene Manlove Rhodes died in San Diego in his wife's arms one early morning. As a cowboy, he breathed in a lot of alkali dust.

So I hate smoke, but not smokers. I do feel sorry for them, though. Most smokers are very considerate of others--I love them for that.

I avoid smoke like the plague. It is a plague.


Don Bauder Jan. 31, 2012 @ 8:11 p.m.

Gambling addiction is societally deleterious -- and expensive. America thinks its governments are piling up so much revenue from gambling, but our leaders don't consider the social costs of addiction. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Jan. 31, 2012 @ 10:42 p.m.

The gov makes no revenue off gambling. It all goes to the mega corps or Indians. After the social costs are deducted for the food stamps, housing, medical and everything else for all the losers who lost their shirts the gov comes out behind 100 fold.


nokomisjeff Feb. 1, 2012 @ 4:43 a.m.

And yet you never see the winners at GA(Gambler's Anonymous)


Don Bauder Feb. 1, 2012 @ 7:58 a.m.

Well, winning streaks don't last. Eventually, winners turn into losers and may have to seek psychological help. My guess is that a high percentage of GA people were once winners, lured into the slough of despair by reality punching them in the nose. The reality is that casino gambling is a losers' game over the long term. The games are rigged for the house. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Feb. 1, 2012 @ 9:25 a.m.

You never see winners at GA because there are none, if their gambling was done in casinos, or using slots, video poker, etc. Win streaks are similarly things of folklore; to win big for as few as three days straight has odds against it in the millions to one. No, consistent winners at casinos are those who claim to be, and they lie. But since folklore wants to include things that make the person feel good, stories of big winners abound. Nonsense, all of it. All those games of chance have a built-in house edge, and the house always wins. The only game still in casinos that was not set up that way was blackjack, and some math geniuses figured out how to get an edge on the house. But that is not easy to do, and the casinos can detect it. When they do, you don't play there any more. Anyone who thinks that Indian "gaming" is a benign sort of thing, merely for entertainment, is badly mistaken. Most of the money lost in casinos was not someone's excess funds; it came out of the rent budget, the food budget, the medical and dental care budget, and it is kids who really suffer from the neglect.


Don Bauder Feb. 1, 2012 @ 9:56 a.m.

Agreed on all points, Visduh. The Bell Curve shows that some people will break the bank consistently -- for awhile. Then comes the crash. Statistically, the reversion to the mean takes over. The gambler should realize that the string of wins was nothing but good luck. But most gamblers don't. They keep coming back. That's how casinos rake in the loot. And yes, in so many cases the money that casinos stash in offshore numbered accounts is money that should go to the kids' food. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Feb. 2, 2012 @ 8:55 p.m.

I say again, it may be legal, but it's criminal. But then we have an entire culture that is antisocial.


Ponzi Feb. 1, 2012 @ 9:49 a.m.

I laugh at the casino television and print advertisements. It always shows a bunch of young, white happy smiling couples having fun. It is nothing like that in real life.

Oh, and on Blackjack. You can’t win at that. They put several decks of cards in the shoe making it difficult for card counters. Also, many gamblers used to keep doubling their bet when they lost to “catch up” and then return to their original bet once they won a hand. That is thwarted by table limits.


Don Bauder Feb. 1, 2012 @ 1:34 p.m.

How about the way horse races are fixed? Horses are fed pills that will make them run out of gas three-fourths of the way down the track. Etc. You may remember the story about the three proud fathers boasting about their sons. The first says his son was first in his class at Harvard and is now making $2 million a year as a brain surgeon. The second says his son had straight A's at Princeton and is now making $3 million a year as a Wall Street lawyer. The third says his son was kicked out of high school and military school, but is now making $4 million a year as a sports mechanic. The other two fathers ask what a sports mechanic does. Says the third father, "He fixes football games, he fixes baseball games, he fixes horse races...."Best, Don Bauder


Twister Feb. 2, 2012 @ 9:13 p.m.

Well, yeah, we've sold our birthright for a mess o' pottage, we've whored ourselves to feed our affluenza, trashed Eden, and enshrined sodomy, just to name a few of our brave new acts in the name of narcissism. We are egocentric to the core, and we "am become death, destroyer of worlds."

But from underneath a social conscience, long buried under the security-blankets of culture, is rising up through the muck, to challenge the apocalyptic riders, not with sharpened sticks, but with sharpened minds . . . not yet strong enough, but persistent enough to prevail--in the long run. The survival of many species, not merely Homo-the-sap, depends upon that prevalence.


Don Bauder Feb. 3, 2012 @ noon

If a social conscience is rising through the much, it isn't too evident. Best, Don Bauder


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