Key legislative leaders say it’s unlikely the state law which allows smoking in the state’s casinos will be changed in 2011.
The statewide ban on smoking in most public places took effect in July of 2008, but it included an exemption that allows smoking at the casinos — not in the casino bars or restaurants, but smoking is permitted on the gambling floor around the slot machines and black jack tables.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines predicts legislators will do nothing in 2010 to change the two-and-a-half-year-old law.
“I think it’s pretty fresh to open that can of worms up again this year,” McCarthy says.
Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat, is from Emmetsburg, a city which has a state-licensed casino.
“I have a lot of local folks that say, ‘Jack, why don’t you try to get rid of that smoking out there?'” Kibbie says. “I don’t know if we’ll be addressing that or not. You know, the problem with gaming issues is they turn out to be very controversial and people look to this as a place where we can tack amendments on and gaming bills, they generally get so many amendments they get so heavy you can’t carry ’em. That’s the reason a lot of (gambling-related) bills don’t move through the process very easily.”
Kibbie wants the casino operators to voluntarily create separate smoking and non-smoking areas on the casino floors.
“Some may be engineered that they could do that and some they probably can’t,” Kibbie says. “But I think they ought to work with the Racing & Gaming Commission and ask for some approval to reconstruct their gaming floors so that if there’s people that want to go to the casinos and no smoke, they’d have a place to do that.”
Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley says he doesn’t know whether legislators would take up the issue and ban smoking altogether at the casinos.
“We have a rather schitophrenic approach to some of these issues,” McKinley says. “We think it’s o.k. to smoke on casino floors, but we don’t think it’s o.k. in a local tavern or a local VFW for people to be able to smoke. I think this is contributing to the sense of Iowans that government has become way too intrusive.”
However, Republican Governor-elect Branstad supports the statewide smoking ban and he would not sign a law repealing it. During the campaign, Branstad also said he would sign a bill to forbid smoking on the casino floors.