New Proposal To Extinguish Smoking At Harrah’s North Carolina Casinos

Posted on May 26, 2021

A new proposed tribal law looks to prevent public smoking within two Harrah’s North Carolina casinos. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Valley River Casino could transform into non-smoking facilities as early as this June.

These facilities aren’t the only casinos near Tennessee looking at new smoke-free policies.

Harrah’s casinos could soon adopt a no smoking policy

Both Harrah’s casinos are owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). If approved, the ordinance would ban all tobacco, non-tobacco, and electronic cigarette products inside EBCI gaming facilities.

The proposal is expected to be heard during the Tribal Council’s session this coming month, and will go into effect if ratified by the Principal Chief.

Naturally, there are a few exclusions to this proposed law. First, the regulation precludes “the smoking or consumption of tobacco used for the purposes of traditional Cherokee cultural ceremonies”.

Additionally, the casinos would permit smoking inside private hotel rooms specifically designated as smoking rooms. These properties will also still permit smoking outdoors.

According to the ordinance, more than 85% of America’s current population is a non-smoker. Statistics like this suggest it’s time for casinos to join the non-smoking bandwagon.

Health benefits of a smoking ban

The ordinance also notes research from the Center For Disease Control (CDC), stating that “there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure”. Those that do not smoke, yet sustain secondhand smoke exposure, have a 25-30% increased risk of developing heart disease or lung cancer, or even dying.

Furthermore, documented cases exist of tribal casino employees who have never smoked but have died from health complications arising from secondhand smoke exposure.

EBCI tribal member and legislation sponsor Lavita Hill mentioned multiple benefits to this adjustment:

“Smoke-free casinos have an easier time attracting employees, and those employees use fewer sick days. Insurance premiums will likely drop, not only for casino employee health care costs, but for fire and liability insurance as well. Cleaning and maintenance costs will go down.  Immediately, our Cherokee people will become healthier. We will become healthier as a Tribe.”

Studies show smoke-free casinos don’t deter guests

These revisions will not only be beneficial from a health standpoint, but from a financial standpoint as well.

Both Harrah’s casino locations originally prohibited smoking at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic due to ongoing public health concerns. And surprisingly, this shift has not hurt gaming revenue whatsoever.

Hill says they have seen no deficit in the casino’s bottom line due to this shift:

“Casino revenues, since going smoke-free a year ago, have not decreased. The financial experiment has already been done, and it has succeeded. People want our casinos to stay smoke-free.  The financials support this decision too.”

A 2011 study at the Lake of the Torches Resorts Casino in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, looked at the effects of a smoke-free facility on casino patronage. This research article, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, surveyed 957 casino-goers, determining that a smoke-free casino would not impose a negative effect on casino clientele.

In fact, the facilities would likely see an increase in overall patronage. Of those surveyed, 54% said they would be likely to visit more often, while 18% expect to visit less, and the final 28% are indifferent on the subject.

Another recent study published in Public Health Reports found that 75% of adults living in the US favor the idea of smoke-free casinos.

Smoking ban curbs “new gaming threats”

The EBCI also notes the existence of “new gaming threats” as one reason for this ordinance.

Now that the Catawba Nation will be opening up a competing North Carolina casino, customer acquisition and retention is more important than ever for Harrah’s.

Additionally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has posed a significant threat to casino patronage, making indoor smoking an even more pressing health concern.

Loretta Bolden, one of the proposal’s sponsors, is both an EBCI tribal elder as well as a Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort employee. She notes employee health as a primary concern.

“The table games employees get exposed to more secondhand smoke than most of us. Like the coronavirus, secondhand smoke spreads throughout the building. We have guests and employees with weak immune systems, are at risk of respiratory illness, or have had severe COVID-19 symptoms who would benefit immensely from us going smoke-free indoors as the majority of our sister tribes have done.”

The American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation (ANRF) reports that many federally recognized tribes have re-opened their casinos as smoke-free establishments including:

  • Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
  • Poarch Band of Creek Indians
  • Cherokee Nation
  • Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut
  • Colorado River Indian Tribe
  • Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

In total, over 1,000 US casinos and gaming venues have made the switch to an entirely smoke-free indoor environment. An updated directory of those establishments can be found here.

North Carolina’s two Harrah’s casinos could soon join that list.

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Alec Cunningham

As a college athlete, Alec Cunningham played Division II golf at Tusculum University. She graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. She then returned to her love of written word in 2000 after working in the music industry as a concert promoter, tour manager and artist developer. As a journalist, she's covered a variety of topics and currently specializes in Tennessee online sports betting and Virginia casino news. She served as a panelist at this year's All American Sports Betting Summit, discussing the ever-evolving role of women in the gambling industry.

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