Colorado casinos tweak smoking laws
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” Central City Mayor Buddy Schmalz says his casino town has no intention of skirting a statewide indoor smoking ban that will be extended to casinos Jan. 1, despite town ordinances that critics say loosen restrictions.
The state ban applies to “indoor areas” ” defined as any enclosed space or portion thereof. Central City, the smallest of the state’s three mountain casino towns, recently decided to formally define “outdoor areas,” where smoking is permitted.
“We just felt the state was quiet on defining ‘outdoor space.’ We have no intentions of getting around any kind of laws on the smoking ban,” Schmalz insisted.
Last month, the City Council defined an outdoor area as anyplace that’s at least 40 percent permanently exposed to the outdoors.
Opponents called it a move to get around the law barring smoking in enclosed areas.
“It’s very disappointing that a local government has taken a position of overruling state law,” said Stephanie Steinberg of Smoke-Free Gaming of Colorado, a group formed by casino patrons.
In 2006, legislators passed the indoor smoking ban that exempted casinos, cigar bars and smoking lounges at Denver International Airport. This year, they voted to extend the ban to casinos beginning Jan. 1.
The Colorado Gaming Association is concerned revenue could drop after Jan. 1, after seeing revenues fall 10 to 20 percent in other jurisdictions with smoking bans.
“Our customers’ reactions have run the gamut from really excited about it to being concerned it’s going to cut down on their entertainment,” said John East, vice president of Colorado operations for The Lodge Casino and the Gilpin Hotel Casino. The casinos are adding heaters to outdoor areas.
Colorado’s casino industry may be helped by the fact that there are few alternatives for more smoker-friendly casino gambling near the Denver metropolitan area, said the gaming association’s executive director, Lois Rice. Tribal casinos in southwest Colorado are about a six- or seven-hour drive away.
Already, Central City and neighboring Black Hawk have loosened a state restriction on how far smokers must be from building entrances before they light up.
State law requires smokers to stand at least 15 feet away from entrances, although home-rule municipalities can change the distance.
Central City and Black Hawk reduced the required distance to an inch. In the casino town of Cripple Creek, the restriction is still 15 feet.
Schmalz explained that Central City’s new outdoor space ordinance simply allows the town to be prepared if any casino applies to build outdoor patios to accommodate smoking customers. Few casinos have enough space to build patios anyway, he added.
In Black Hawk, there are no plans to adopt Central City’s ordinance on outdoor areas, explained City Manager Richard Lessner.
Several casinos have applied to build at least partially sheltered smoking areas there. He said the city issues building permits but doesn’t pass judgment on whether a covered patio qualifies as an outdoor space.
“Most of the casinos are taking steps to try to make their smoking patrons as comfortable as possible by building outdoor spaces with some covering,” Lessner said. “We ask the casinos to check with their own legal counsel to comply with the smoking law.”
The Gaming Association is leaving those questions to local building and zoning authorities, Rice said.
“They have jurisdiction over what they will allow casinos to construct,” she said. “We’re encouraging our members to comply with the spirit of legislation that was passed.”
In Cripple Creek, City Administrator Bill McPherson said enforcement would be left largely to casinos.
“The city is neither pro nor con in this thing,” McPherson said. “The regulation really affects the casinos so it’s up to them to enforce it … We certainly don’t have the funds or manpower to enforce it by patrolling casinos.”