Terre Haute casino might be gamechanger for smokefree casinos

Other casinos are taking notice that the effective smoking ban at the Terre Haute Casino Resort (no smoking is permitted on the main casino floor. An outdoor covered patio offering 117 slot machines and eight table games is reserved for smokers) seems not to be affecting attendance – nor food and beverage sales.

As each year passes and baby boomers age out, younger people (including Hoosiers) are less likely to be smokers, and the drinking and smoking and gambling and smoking co-dependencies appear to be far less prevalent than a decade or two ago.

Note as well that THCR is the non-Lake County casino closest to Illinois . . .  where all casinos have been non-smoking since 2008. The Ohio casinos also debuted in 2012 and 2013 with no indoor smoking.

In a letter to the editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, the American Lung Association and some Terre Haute residents congratulate Churchill Downs Inc. and the City of Terre Haute over “The long-awaited opening for the first newly constructed smoke-free casino in the state of Indiana.”

The American Lung Association observes that “There is still a myth that just isn’t true. Smoke-free casinos are just as successful if not more successful than smoking casinos because more people will visit when they aren’t risking their health. Communities become healthier; an entire workforce isn’t exposed daily to deadly secondhand smoke for a career they love.”

“The bottom line is that prohibiting smoking/vaping indoors is the new social norm and it’s the county and city law. We as a community must stand together to make sure that stays the case,” the letter-writers conclude.

Recall that while there has been no recent effort of any significance (largely since former Rep. Charlie Brown (D) of Gary retired several years ago) . . . but neither was there any attempt to undo the local smoking ban that affected the new casino or create a casino loophole, suggesting that the gaming industry was either at peace with the local smoking ban in the Wabash Valley, or, more likely, didn’t want to elevate the issue in the public eye for fear of pushback that would impact the gaming industry statewide. Another potential explanation: the industry is effectively agnostic now on the issue, given changing public attitudes, health concerns by employees (particularly union members), and workarounds such as in Terre Haute and the downtown Cincinnati property.

We’ve not heard of any new attempt to ban smoking at gaming properties in the 2025 legislative session, but we would not be surprised to see such a measure. If this does emerge, do not look for it as a standalone bill where it could be easily killed – likely by not even scheduling it for a committee hearing. Rather, you should look instead for any such legislation to be tucked away as a tiny part of a broader public health bill . . . or included in a long-delayed gaming omnibus bill as part of a more general tradeoff.