Home Ventilation system Don’t smoke inside a casino? Koi Nation’s projects in Wine Country are part of a larger trend

Don’t smoke inside a casino? Koi Nation’s projects in Wine Country are part of a larger trend


The Koi Nation’s plans to build a new tribal gaming venue near Windsor – the Shiloh Resort & Casino – will likely attract attention for the hundreds of slots and tables, hotel rooms and restaurants, and new jobs and traffic.

But what’s also somewhat unusual about the planned casino is that it will be completely smoke-free.

This may not come as surprising in a wine region that attracts a wide range of tourists and has been plagued by smoke and soot from devastating fires. But smoky arcades are a tradition of casinos, and some operators don’t want their hardcore clientele to stray from slots for a smoke break.

Yet more and more casinos – including the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, which challenges the Koi Nation project just upstream of Highway 101 – are starting to reserve non-smoking sections, sometimes in separate buildings, and to install more robust air purifiers.

Some even decide not to cater to smokers at all, betting they can attract more people who don’t want to breathe the stale air while they play, drink, or dine.

Here is a closer look at the matter in December 2019. The headline was: “Tribal Casinos Remain the Last Haven for California Smokers, at least for now.

Smoking is prohibited in nearly all enclosed public places in California, from bars and restaurants to sports arenas and movie theaters. Even parking garages prohibit harmful fumes.

But tribal casinos in California remain a smoky outlier – at least for now. Only here can bettors play slots and other Vegas-style games in a setting reminiscent of the days when smokers were free to light up almost anywhere they wanted.

A rendering of the Shiloh Resort & Casino offered at 222 E. Shiloh Rd. Near Windsor and north of Santa Rosa.

Courtesy of Koi Nation Sonoma

Because California tribes are sovereign nations, they are not subject to many state laws, including California anti-smoking regulations. They can set the rules for their casinos, and only three of California’s 69 tribal casinos are completely smoke-free.

Howard Asprey, a 60-year-old Richmond resident who frequented tribal gambling establishments, said he had been to about 20 tribal casinos across the state, all of which allow smoking. He used to regularly visit California casinos with his wife and daughter, but after his wife suffered a few asthma attacks from casino smoke, requiring emergency room travel, they stopped visiting.

“They’re all pretty much the same,” Asprey said. “You walk in and it burns your eyes. You can smell the smoke right away. If you ever have trouble breathing, this is not a place to go indoors.

So far, only three small California casinos have bet on non-smoking: Lucky Bear Casino in Hoopa (Humboldt County), Redwood Hotel Casino in Klamath (Del Norte County) and La Jolla Trading Post in Pauma Valley (County of San Diego).

Narinder Dhaliwal, director of the California Clean Air Project, a state-funded program that works with tribes – and their casinos – to reduce smoking, said those locations only have 150 to 200 slots, against 3,000 at some of the state’s largest casinos. The incentive for big casinos to make a change will probably have to come from customers.

The Win-River Casino near Redding, Shasta County, went smoke-free for 11 months before changing course to allow smoking in 30% of the casino after business fell, Dhaliwal said.

“If you want a smoke-free environment, you have to start asking for it,” she said. “And if they give it to you, you have to show up and use it.”

Customers and casino workers often accept smoky gambling floors as a reality, but smothering smoky air is a common complaint in online reviews of the three tribal gambling establishments in the Bay Area: San Pablo Lytton Casino, Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park and River Rock Casino in Geyserville.

The tribes have cooperated with anti-smoking programs, funded by state cigarette taxes, but have been reluctant to ban the habit because they fear it will reduce casino revenues. The tribes use this money to fund their governments as well as health, education and cultural preservation programs. In some tribes, income is shared and paid to members.

“These are businesses, and while smoking is a public health issue close to our hearts, we must also remember that they must consider the economic impact on the tribe,” Dhaliwal said.

The state’s public health department reports that only 10.5% of California adults smoke, prompting casinos across the state to establish smoke-free sections at their casinos. Many, however, share permeable walls or have no barrier at all.

Although they have powerful ventilation systems, reports from the Surgeon General of the United States and the World Health Organization have found that such equipment can make the casino look and smell smoke-free, but does not. not eliminate the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“This is a misconception,” Dhaliwal said. “There is no form of ventilation that can remove second-hand smoke from the air. They can reduce odors, they can reduce visible smoke in the air, but they will never get rid of carcinogens.

Bronson Frick, director of advocacy for Americans for the rights of non-smokers, said his Berkeley-based organization received numerous calls from casino workers wanting to escape the smoke.

“The casino workforce is the most exposed sector of employment to cigarette smoke in the United States,” he said, adding that the number and size of tribal casinos is increasing, which means that an increasing number of employees will be exposed to second-hand smoke.

According to Frick and Dhaliwal, purifying the air in California casinos is something that should be negotiated tribe by tribe. Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and the California Clean Air Project both recognize the sovereignty of Indian tribes and have delicately tried to persuade casinos of the benefits of eliminating smoking.

In addition to healthcare costs, smoking often results in high employee turnover and increased training costs, Frick said. It also speeds up damage to furniture, which needs to be cleaned or replaced more frequently, forcing casinos to invest in expensive filters and ventilation systems.

“We strongly support sovereignty and are happy to help tribes go smoke-free when they decide it’s time to go smoke-free,” Frick said.

In the Bay Area, Graton converted a former event center into a non-smoking play area, and San Pablo Lytton recently replaced its ventilation system with one that filters more smoke and pumps out fresh air. .

Dhaliwal said sick smoky casino players can spur change by mentioning their concerns in comment cards provided by most casinos, or by speaking with employees who ask about their visits.

“One day we will have all of California’s tribal casinos smoke-free,” she said. “It might be a way to go, but it will happen. At least that’s my vision.

Michael Cabanatuan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ctuan