Gambling revenue is falling in Illinois and gaming supporters are blaming the state's indoor smoking ban. A report released last week by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability speculated that receipts at riverboat casinos fell to their lowest level in a decade last year because fewer cigarette users are showing up to play. The data worried some lawmakers in Springfield; members of the House Executive Committee quickly passed a bill (HB 1846 Amendment 1) yesterday afternoon that would exempt the state's casinos from the regulation.
Matt Maloney of the Respiratory Health Association of Chicago, one of the major advocates for the ban, is lobbying hard against the bill. One of the central reasons lawmakers passed the law in the first place two years ago was to protect workers in industries where tobacco use is common. (There's really no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which studies show can lead to increased rates of cancer, heart disease, and other serious medical ailments.) "We don't think there should be a second class of workers here," he told us this afternoon. The Illinois Department of Public Health, during the hearing yesterday, pointed out that any new gambling revenue would likely be offset by increases in public health costs.
Several lawmakers reportedly voted in favor of the bill in committee despite voicing reservations about its value. Maloney says his organization and their allies are talking to as many members of the House as possible before its debated on the floor. "We're not taking anything for granted," he added.