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March 16, 2011
TOPEKA Casino operators said they would make less money and the state would collect fewer taxes, if Kansas' statewide smoking ban were expanded to include their gaming floors.
But doctors and other health advocates who testified in support of House Bill 2039 said eliminating the exemption would be a good thing because it would spare more workers from the perils of second-hand smoke.
The House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday collected testimony on a pair of tobacco-related proposals.
HB 2039 would ban smoking on the gaming floors of state-owned casinos, which were among the few locations exempted from the statewide public smoking ban passed by last year's Legislature.
That exemption has irked the committee's chairperson, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, ever since the ban was passed and she's the one who put HB 2039 before her commitee for consideration. Landwehr has repeatedly said it was hypocritical for Kansas to ban smoking in most other business locations while exempting casinos. Under Kansas law, the casinos technically are owned by the state but operated under contract by independent developers. Kansas is the only state where casinos are state-owned enterprises.
Currently, smoking is prohibited in virtually all other workplaces, excluding smoke shops and certain types of private or fraternal clubs such as American Legion halls.
Landwehr's committee also collected testimony on HB 2340, which would add a new exemption to the smoking ban: bars that sell lottery tickets.
Except for a couple of bar owners or their spokesmen who said they could support both bills, most who testified favored one and opposed the other.
"We're asking for equalization of the current ban," said Phil Bradley, a lobbyist for the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association, whose members include bars, breweries, restaurants and clubs. "It's entirely unfair that some groups - casinos - can continue to allow smoking."
Bradley said his group would prefer repeal of the existing ban but considered that unlikely. Polls have shown broad public support for the ban among all types of voters.
Removing the exemption for casinos would affect possibly up to four facilities, the maximum number of off-reservation casinos allowed under current law. Since state-owned casino gaming was approved in 2007, only one casino has begun operations, Boot Hill Casino & Resort in Dodge City.
A second casino resort, at a cost of $300 million, is being built in Kansas City, Kan. by Penn National Gaming. The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission also has inked a contract with Iowa-based Peninsula Gaming to develop a $160 million casino in Mulvane, which is near Wichita. But the House Federal and State Affairs Committee earlier this week approved a resolution asking Attorney General Derek Schmidt to file a lawsuit challenging the contract.
Spokesmen for Boot Hill and Penn National testified against HB 2039.
Karen Baily of Penn National told the committee her company owns three riverboat casinos in Illinois and after that state banned smoking in 2008, "the impact to gaming revenues was seen almost immediately. Since implementation of the ban, statewide revenues have decreased by over 30 percent."
Sharon Stroburg of Boot Hill said banning casino smoking would cost the state more than $32 million over the next 14 years, from Boot Hill alone. The company has 14 years remaining on its operating contract with the state.
Most health advocates who testified said they would support eliminating the exemption for the casinos, but their larger concern was HB 2340 because it would potentially expand smoking to so many more locations.
That bill drew opposition from a wide array of people including Tonia Carlson, a biology teacher from Paxico who also is a smoker.
"It is my right to smoke," she said, "but that right is not more important than the rights of those who choose not to smoke. They deserve to have access to clean water, safe food and clean air when they are in a public bar, restaurant or other venue."
Carlson said she does not smoke when her children are present, even at home.
She said Paxico has only one restaurant, which also is the town tavern. She said she was more comfortable taking her children there to eat since the smoking ban became effective last summer.
Committee members also heard opposition from various doctors, including Drs. John Neuberger and Edward Ellerbeck of the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Dr. Jen Brull of Plainville, speaking for the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians.
The Kansas Health Institute provided neutral, written testimony on the impact of the Lawrence citywide smoking ban, which preceded the state smoking ban.
Jessica Hembree of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City gave testimony opposing HB 2340 and citing a study that showed "no negative economic consequences" could be attributed to smoke-free laws passed in communities in Missouri or Kansas prior to the statewide smoking ban.