The implications of Park MGM’s move to go smoke-free within the COVID-19 pandemic are important to consider. Perhaps COVID is the nudge the industry needs to prioritize people’s health and eliminate smoking on casino floors.
On September 14, MGM Resorts International announced that the Park MGM/NoMad hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, would be reopening from the pandemic shutdown on September 30. A subhead to this press release noted that, upon opening, Park MGM (and the boutique property, NoMad, located on Park MGM’s top floors) would be the Las Vegas Strip’s only smoke-free casino property.
Anyone who has visited Las Vegas casinos and dodged smokers on the casino floor likely realizes this is big news. According to Anton Nikodemus, president of MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas portfolio, the decision to make Park MGM/NoMad smoke-free is due to “recurring guest demand for a fully non-smoking casino resort on the Strip.”
In the United States, there isn’t a nationwide federal smoking ban in workplaces and public places. Smoking laws vary widely throughout the country. According to the American Lung Association, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws; Nevada is not among them. Nevada’s Clean Indoor Air Act, passed in 2006 and updated in 2011 and 2019, prohibits smoking in workplaces — but gaming floors, stand-alone bars, taverns, and saloons where minors are prohibited or that don’t offer food service are exempt.
Smoking on casino floors has long been a contentious and concerning issue in Vegas. Research conducted in 2017 indicated 75 percent of people favored smoke-free casinos. Traveler forums are filled with comments and concerns related to smoking, but patrons aren’t the only ones impacted by secondhand smoke. Casino employees are exposed to hazardous levels of toxic secondhand smoke at work, including tobacco-specific carcinogens that increase in the body over the course of a single shift, according to a federal report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
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MGM’s move to go smoke-free may be framed as a response to consumer requests, yet its implications within the wider COVID-19 pandemic are important to consider. In fact, that’s how the news at Park MGM was announced. Within the details of its reopening procedure, the smoking ban was woven into the property’s health and safety precautions related to COVID-19.
Image credit: MGM Resorts
Smoking and the exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to coughing, which can spread infection through droplets that land on people or solid surfaces. Additionally, the very act of smoking in a casino setting — in which people touch their mouth and/or nose and then touch cards, chips, tables, and/or slot machines — increases the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“While secondhand smoke is certainly unhealthy, the pandemic has raised other health concerns,” said Michael Kipness, a Vegas resident and founder of Wizard Race and Sports. “Slot machines average about 600 pulls per hour. If the average person plays $20 before getting up, that's 30 people's hands touching the machine per hour.”
Park MGM/NoMad is the first property to ban smoking outright, but it’s not the first to make modifications during the reopening process in Las Vegas. According to an article published July 15 by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, several Vegas properties have updated their health policies related to smoking. These include everything from conditions under which patrons can smoke at table games to requiring them to wear their masks when not smoking.
“The trend nationally has been moving away from smoke-filled restaurants and bars, and casinos are one of the last hold-outs,” said Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com — a travel-related site that provides analysis, data and reviews for travelers.
The trend is already catching on. The Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition is using this opportunity to advocate for all of the state’s casinos to go smoke-free — calling Park MGM “a trendsetter,” but noting that this should be the “new standard.” Within days of MGM’s announcement, nearby resort the Cosmopolitan banned smoking in its public walkways and corridors.
Nationwide, a wide range of restaurants, bars, and hospitality and gaming establishments are reopening as smoke-free environments. The American Nonsmokers’ Right Foundation has been keeping an ongoing list of the hundreds of businesses, specifically noting that sovereign Tribes have led this movement.
As Miller points out: “It’s no secret most hospitality venues have been going smoke-free for years; so, casinos are simply catching up to what their hotel, restaurant and entertainment counterparts have already done.”
Perhaps these small steps in curbing casinos’ smoking culture in the wake of COVID-19 may be the nudge the industry needs to prioritize people’s health and eliminate — or at least seriously curtail — smoking on the casino floor.