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Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi today joined members of the union that represents workers at the state’s casinos in calling for passage of her legislation to include casinos in the state’s law prohibiting smoking in workplaces.

“Casino workers are Rhode Islanders, parents, caregivers, taxpayers and human beings, and they deserve the same protections as everyone else in our state. It is fundamentally wrong to say that no one should be exposed secondhand smoke in the workplace, but carve out an exception that leaves one group of workers not only unprotected, but in fact, bathed in smoke every day. There’s no excuse for continuing to endanger their health, and we need to pass this bill to let them breathe safely like everyone else,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).

Representative Tanzi is sponsoring legislation (2022-H 7855) to remove the exemption for gaming facilities in the Public Health and Workplace Safety Act.

 This legislation is supported by Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 271, which represents casino workers in Rhode Island. Leaders and members of the union spoke at a State House event today in support of the legislation.

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Lynn Dupre, who dealt for eight years at Bally’s Twin River and Bally’s Tiverton, told the story of how she transferred from the Lincoln location to Tiverton shortly after it opened, taking a pay cut and enduring a longer commute in the hope that the facility’s newer ventilation system would improve her health. At first it did, she said, but the reprieve was temporary.

“About six months later, after working 40 hours every week with people blowing smoke into my face, the smoke started taking its toll again, even with better ventilation. Simply put, there is absolutely no way to have a smoking casino which is not harmful to its employees’ health,” said Dupre.

When Rhode Island’s two casinos– reopened in June 2020 following the COVID 19 shutdown, they prohibited indoor smoking as a safety measure. In March of this year, they reinstated smoking in designated gaming floors.

Dupre said her lungs and body felt great again while the casino was smoke-free. Within two weeks of the return of smoking, the nagging cough that she’d previously experienced returned. On April 1, she quit to preserve her health.

Linda Jabrin, a blackjack dealer at Bally’s Twin River, pointed out that during the two years when smoking was smoking wasn’t allowed indoors, patrons were generally cooperative about going outside to smoke there, just as they do in all other businesses and public places.

“Let me ask a question. How many of you smoke or have a close family member or friend who smokes? Do they smoke in your house or do they go outside? COVID has sent all smokers outside and most are happy to do so still,” she said.

Supporters point out that allowing smoking is no longer necessary for successful business in casinos. Casinos in Massachusetts and most Connecticut casinos do not allow indoor smoking. In fact, competition from the 100% smoke-free Encore Boston Harbor casino, which opened in June 2019, is considered to be biting into Rhode Island’s revenue from table games, video lottery terminals and sports.

The legislation was heard by the House Finance Committee on April 13 and held for further study.