Two years ago, Iowa legislators banned smoking in most public places. Iowa casinos are one of the few places where smokers can still light up indoors. Michael Galloway believes it’s helped keep business booming at Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino in Altoona. Galloway is the chairman of Prairie Meadows’ Board of Directors.

“I think our attendance has stayed pretty strong, even through the bad economy…so maybe part of it is attributable to the ability for people to smoke and game,” Galloway said. There are 1,900 slot machines inside the casino and most of them have an ash tray within reach.

“I appreciate it a lot,” one gambler said while puffing away on a cigarette. “I can come here and smoke, drink and gamble and do everything my wife (doesn’t) want me to do.” Nearby, a woman was smoking and putting coins into the penny slots. “It’s just fun and relaxing,” she said. “I don’t smoke anywhere but here.” There are nonsmoking areas on the casino floor and lighting up is prohibited in the restaurant and events center.

Prairie Meadows Board member Tom Whitney, who is trying to quit smoking himself, believes a total ban on smoking in Iowa casinos is inevitable. “Smoking has always been traditionally part of casinos and the casino lifestyle,” Whitney said. “The trouble with it is we all feel a little guilty about it because the legislation is really trying to save people’s lives and if you look to the future…a day will come when smoking will be banned in its entirety in casinos.”

Around a-quarter-million people paid a visit to Prairie Meadows last year. Supporters of the smoking exemption for gambling establishments say a complete ban on smoking would hurt attendance, thereby cutting gambling revenue provided to state and county governments and charitable organizations.