PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A group fighting indoor smoking at casinos nationwide is inviting Portsmouth’s casino workers to join its ranks.
Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) says its leaders reached out to employees at Rivers Casino Portsmouth in an open letter addressed Tuesday.
“We want to help you… not suffer silently every day that you go to work,” the letter reads in part. “We know all about the fears of speaking out, and that’s why the first step of joining our group of thousands of casino employees nationwide will help ensure you have strength in numbers.”
This comes one day after the recently opened Portsmouth casino changed its smoking policy after heavy criticism. Some guests said they wouldn’t return unless changes were made.
The new policy breaks up the main casino floor, which previously allowed smoking throughout, into smoking and nonsmoking sections separated by signs. Other areas of the facility such as restaurants and poker room were already smoke-free.
CEASE and the organization Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights both argue the change doesn’t do enough to protect workers and guests, saying “having a smoking section in a casino is like having a peeing section in a pool.”
“We all must feed our families and pay the bills, therefore we must also breathe the dangerous secondhand smoke being blown into our faces for eight hours a day,” CEASE says. “As a result, too many of us have been dealt diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, asthma and more. We’ve had to breathe this poison through pregnancies, while receiving treatment for cancer, and while wondering what exactly is happening to our health as yet another smoker lights up three feet in front of us, not giving a damn about our well-being. We are essentially the only group of workers left in society forced to choose between our health and a paycheck.”
CEASE and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights say Rivers’ claim of having “the most powerful ventilation system money can buy” doesn’t hold water, and that engineers who designed the ventilators acknowledge they don’t help with second-hand smoke.
CEASE is currently backing legislation to ban smoking loopholes in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Kansas and Pennsylvania, the latter of which has a Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh where smoking is allowed. Rivers’ other casino in Philadelphia notably opted to stay smoke-free after COVID restrictions were lifted.
Virginia’s Clean Air Act bans indoor smoking in nearly all public spaces in the commonwealth, but casinos were one of the places given an exception. WAVY has reached out to lawmakers, including Portsmouth’s Del. Don Scott and Sen. Louise Lucas, to see if they would support amending state law to ban smoking in Virginia casinos going forward. We’ll let you know what they say.
Facts about Portsmouth’s casino
- It’s the first freestanding casino in Virginia history, after Portsmouth approved gaming in 2020 by referendum. State Sen. Louise Lucas worked since the 1990s to bring a casino to her city.
- Virginia’s first temporary casino opened last July in Bristol, it’s not considered permanent like Portsmouth’s.
- Portsmouth’s casino is open 24/7, and there’s no last call for alcohol. Parking is also free.
- The top amount you can win before being taxed? $1,200. With any prizes above that you’ll have to sign a form and pay taxes.
- The entire facility cost more than $300 million to build and the casino itself is 50,000 square feet. There are 1,448 slot machines, 57 table games, and 24 poker tables.
- It can fit about 10,000 people, according to the fire marshal.
- The groundbreaking for the facility was in December 2021.
- Six restaurants, including a steak and seafood house unique to Portsmouth, are listed on the casino’s website, but food is also available in areas such as the Sportsbook and at the TopGolf Swing Suite. Yard House, which has a location at Virginia Beach Town Center, is the only restaurant not open yet.
- The facility’s expected to bring in about $12 million to $16 million a year in tax revenue for Portsmouth, city officials say, through roughly 6% of the casino’s adjusted gross revenue — – total wagering minus total paid-out winnings.
- It was originally supposed to open on Sunday, January 15, but the opening was pushed back to Monday, January 23 as they worked to test and verify new gaming equipment.
- The facility currently employs about 1,100 people.