PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Rivers Casino Portsmouth has officially changed its smoking policy after significant feedback from guests and the community.

The new policy makes half of the gaming floor inside the main casino area nonsmoking. Both table games and slot games will be included in both smoking and nonsmoking sections, Rivers said.

Rivers did remind guests that cigars, vaping and marijuana are not allowed inside the facility.

Previously, smoking was allowed throughout the main gaming floor, leading to a slew of negative feedback since the casino opened last Monday. Many people said they wouldn’t go unless changes were made. Rivers then introduced non-smoking section signs in the main casino on Friday, and officially announced the new policy was effective as of Tuesday.

This change now makes about 80% of the facility smoke-free. The dedicated poker room, BetRivers Sportsbook, Sound Bar, Topgolf Swing Suite and all of the facility’s restaurants also don’t allow smoking.

An expert on casino gaming who spoke with WAVY on Friday said that Rivers may have thought they had a competitive advantage at first in allowing smoking as other regional casinos have opted to go nonsmoking, but ultimately guest and employee feedback will break through.

“If they’re seeing their employees and their customers don’t want it, or are not doing it, then it makes sense to go non-smoking,” said Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor of hospitality at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Many people, including employees, raised concerns over not only the smell, but of the possibility of secondhand smoke despite Rivers’ ventilation system.

The group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights cited engineers who designed the ventilation systems in emphasizing how ventilation can reduce odor and discomfort, but not exposure to second-hand smoke. They likened a smoking section to “having a peeing section in a pool.”

Smoke is stubborn — it doesn’t abide by a sign and stay in one area. This is a weak effort to address the public outcry that has defined the opening week of Rivers Casino Portsmouth. The only solution is to get rid of indoor smoking — move it outside. Otherwise, casino workers and guests will continue to breathe dangerous secondhand smoke. Rivers has the power to make this decision immediately and attract guests who want to enjoy everything their casino has to offer.”
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights

Pete Naccarelli, a casino dealer in Atlantic City and cofounder of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effect (CEASE) said he’s also concerned about the health effects for employees and guests, and has pushed for legislation to ban smoking in Atlantic City and at other casinos such as Bet Rivers’ in Pittsburgh.

“The bottom line is 87 percent of Americans don’t smoke, 13 percent do,” Naccarelli said. “Why are the casinos catering to the 13 percent that does and while endangering the lives that don’t?”

“Even brief exposure does cause changes in the blood vessel lining and the stickiness of platelets. We know even brief exposures to secondhand smoke increases a person’s risk of heart attack and negative health impacts,” Dr. Marlene Capps, the Chief Clinical Officer for Bon Secours Hampton Roads, told WAVY.

Facts about Portsmouth’s casino