Always Bet on Money -- Illinois House Passes Smoking Exemption for Casinos

UPDATE: HB1965 is the only bill to get out of the House and as of 6/1/2011 has been assigned to Illinois Senate Executive Committee. It was not called before the May 31st deadline. With the expansion of casinos approved, it isn't likely that this will be the end of this type of legislation.


It is one of those bills the average person finds hard to believe. In a state controlled by Democrats at all three levels, the corporation still finds a way to win. This wackiness can't be blamed on a Republican overreach, like we've seen on Wisconsin televisions, as it took eighteen Democrats (who voted to ban smoking in 2007) to switch their vote to pass this exception.

The state of Illinois passed the Smoke Free Illinois Act in 2007, which banned smoking from all indoor workplaces and places of public access (bars, casinos, restaurants, etc). For those of you who don't smoke (including myself) it was seen as a progressive cost-saving achievement in the state. It not only meant that you didn't have to come home from the bar smelling like a pack of menthols, it meant reduced access to secondhand smoke and the risks of cancer and other health ailments associated with exposure.

So it may come as a surprise, to those outside of politics, that the Democratic-led Illinois House decided yesterday to pass an exception allowing smoke to return to the air. HB1965 (passed 62-52), sponsored by Illinois State Representative Daniel Burke, allows gambling facilities to permit smoking as long as neighboring states allow their gambling facilities to do the same.

It is not the only House bill eroding the Smoke Free Act hovering around like the haze we are all about to inhale. HB 171, sponsored by Andre Thapedi, attempts to do the same thing except this bill, at least, requires the smoking area to be in a separate room. HB 1310, sponsored by Anthony DeLuca, is taking on the repeal of the Smoke Free Act by just lighting the whole bill up, allowing the local liquor commissions the ability to issue smoking licenses to bars, casinos and strip clubs.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) secondhand smoke is classified as a "known human carcinogen" causing lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, linked to breast cancer, increases number and severity of asthma attacks and can increase the risk of low birth rates in pregnant women. In a separate public health-related Senate bill (likely to pass) Illinois will ban tanning beds from teenagers, yet we are allowing a known carcinogen to freely flow.


As the prophetic Method Man once said, "Cash Rules Everything Around Me."

No one involved in this bill is hiding that fact. It is hardly a secret even if they tried. Even the bill's sponsor Rep. Daniel Burke said, on the floor of the house, "If we're serious about our budget crisis in Illinois, let's be real. This is not about the smoking issue. This is about the money." While I would argue with his numbers that casinos will somehow regain the 800 million lost if people can suddenly smoke, at least he is being honest that your health isn't part of his decision.

Since we are in a "being honest" spirit, I think it is also important to note that according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics the casino industry has donated nearly $900,000 to Illinois politicians in 2010 alone. I am not saying anyone voted yesterday because they received a donation, but campaigns do not pay for themselves, and this industry is major player in re-election efforts.

In 2007, Representative Karen Yarbrough said in support of the Smoke Free Act,

What [smokers] should not have a right to do is force others to breathe their smoke and so, we regulate. I'm talking about the people that work in bars and restaurants and places where smoking is common. Those jobs are often low paying with zero (0) to minimal benefits. These people can't afford to miss a day of work for sickness and they shouldn't be forced to breathe secondhand smoke as a part of their job.

Yet in 2011, those same people she was fighting for are being asked to return back to a place which literally will make them sick. The Illinois House is effectively choosing winners and losers in the contest, with the losers winning the consolation prize that one day they might get cancer. The losers are the working poor, often with limited funds and limited health coverage. These are the very people the Democratic party is suppose to be standing up for. Instead the party is fighting to maintain casino profit margins, in relation to neighboring states, at the expense of future costs related to treating the medical issues inflicted by secondhand smoke.

Rep Yarbrough continued,"Everybody has the right to smoke, but your rights stop -- where my rights begin."

Yesterday, in the Illinois House that wasn't the case. Your rights stop where corporation profits begin.