Force of Casinos in Smoking Debate

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- A statewide smoking ban could be as elusive as winning at the slot machines.

Gov. Ed Rendell demanded the ban as one of the key parts of his health-care legislation. It's been pending without resolution for almost a year.

The problem, however, is that Rendell laid down the gauntlet a few weeks ago, saying he would veto any smoking ban unless it recognized Philadelphia's smoking ban. Philadelphia's ordinance is more stringent than the proposed statewide ban pending in the Legislature.

So when a House-Senate conference committee reported out a proposed statewide ban, it included language allowing Philadelphia to exceed the statewide language.

The problem for some Allegheny County lawmakers: the conference report didn't allow their county to also go beyond the statewide ban. Allegheny County had a stringent smoking ban but it was overturned by the courts last year.

The Senate shot down the conference report last week. It was a take it or leave it deal. All senators from Allegheny County voted against it. The House approved the conference report but that's meaningless unless both chambers OK it. It could be reconsidered on Monday.

There are layers of reasons for the Senate's rejection:

* One of the main issues is casinos. Allegheny County banned smoking in casinos. There is a casino being built on the North Shore by PITG Gaming. The conference report allows smoking on 25 percent of gaming floor space statewide. The Meadows in Washington County wanted a smoking section on the gaming floor.

Philadelphia bans smoking in its two licensed casinos, which haven't been finally sited much less built. Atlantic City recently banned smoking in casinos -- so having smoking in Philly casinos is a non-issue.

But it matters to a lot of other heavily monied-interests at tracks and casinos across the state. …