The possibility that the state’s smoking ban could be relaxed for some establishments was met with guarded optimism Thursday, one day after legislation that would allow puffing in casinos and some taverns was sent to the Illinois House. “I think it’s a good idea, it makes a lot of sense,” said Peoria attorney Dan O’Day, who has represented individuals and businesses in cases around the state brought under the Smoke-Free Illinois Act. “I think it would provide a choice for all people.”
Smoking indoors in public places has conceivably been banned since Jan. 1, 2008, though the actual wording of the law for months called into question the ability for it to be enforced. The act has since been revised to more clearly delineate violations as administrative offenses, rather than criminal matters.
Two bills approved by the House Executive Committee, however, would once again introduce smoking into casinos and allow smoking licenses to be issued by local government bodies for certain establishments.
Those businesses include bars with less than 10 percent of their revenue from food sales, adult entertainment outlets and private clubs if authorized by members. Any licensee would have to install air filtration systems.
O’Day said those provisions could provide outlets for smokers and nonsmokers alike, particularly if bars are required to alert patrons whether the establishment allows smoking in no uncertain terms so that people who don’t want to be in smoky taverns don’t accidentally enter one.
“I think a lot of people, even smokers, don’t want to go to a restaurant where people are smoking at the next table,” he said. “A bar is different.”
A Peoria restaurant and bar owner whose establishments would not qualify for a smoking license under the proposed legislation, however, wondered whether smoking licenses for bars that sell almost no food would put him at a competitive disadvantage.
Pat Sullivan, owner of Kelleher’s Irish Pub & Eatery on Water Street, also hoped some restrictions would be placed on casinos’ abilities to branch out into tavern businesses if they are granted permission to allow smoking.
“If they want to let the casinos smoke, then they shouldn’t let them have a bar or a sports bar or food – let them just be a casino,” he said. “The casinos are going to get it, and then all of a sudden, you’ll see the biggest sports bars in casinos.”
Perhaps as to be expected, a spokesman for the owner of Par-A-Dice Riverboat in East Peoria welcomed what he called the ability for the company to make “business-based” decisions about whether to allow smoking rather than being given an ultimatum by the state.
“It’s early in the process, but we’re encouraged that legislators recognize the severe impact on gaming revenues (from the smoking ban),” said Boyd Gaming spokesman David Strow. “We support any legislation that would allow us to make business-based decisions on whether to allow smoking.”
Strow said the gaming industry in the state has lost about 30 percent of its revenue since the ban took effect, though that loss is at least in part attributable to broader economic conditions, as well. A study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank in 2009, however, found that the ban was directly responsible for a 20 to 22 percent decrease in gambling revenue in its first year.