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Attorney General says state can ban smoking in Indian casinos

By Stephen Singer
Hartford, Connecticut (AP) 3-08


The Connecticut General Assembly can extend the state’s smoking ban to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said during mid-March in a formal legal opinion.

In 2003, lawmakers banned smoking in state bars and restaurants, but not in private clubs or the casinos, which are run by Indian tribes and therefore not subject to all state and federal laws.

Blumenthal said the compact between the state and the tribes requires health and safety conditions in casinos to be no less rigorous than state standards. He said at a news conference that the smoking ban is a public health protection that applies broadly to all public buildings and facilities across the state.

The state Supreme Court last year upheld the ban despite protests from bar and restaurant owners who claimed it is unconstitutional because it doesn’t extend to the casinos.

State lawmakers who want to outlaw smoking in casinos asked Blumenthal for the legal opinion.

He said extending the ban would hold up in court, but urged lawmakers and the tribes to reach an agreement.

Tribal sovereignty “would almost be beside the point” because casinos are used by the public, Blumenthal said.

The compact with the state gives the tribes the right to operate gambling casinos in return for paying the state a portion of slot machine revenues.

House Speaker Jim Amann said he hoped the state and the two tribes can reach agreement without legislation. The tribes have a degree of sovereignty based on their federal recognition, but issues such as public health and safety cannot be compromised, he said.

“The state has a right and responsibility to act in these areas,” Amman said.

Bruce Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, which owns the Mohegan Sun, said he's not happy with Blumenthal’s decision. A smoking ban could damage casino business and employment, he said.

In addition, banning smoking in the casinos is discriminatory because it would not affect private clubs where smoking is permitted, he said.

The Mohegan Sun already has established nonsmoking areas, banned smoking from restaurants and other areas and allows smoking only in certain areas of the gambling floor, Bozsum said.

Bozsum said tribal officials believe “communication and cooperation will lead to a successful outcome, whereas unilateral state action will only lead to a completely unnecessary, costly and destructive legal battle.”

Arthur Henick, spokesman for the Mashantucket tribe, which operates Foxwoods Resort Casino, said the casino has invested millions of dollars in an air handling system to filter out cigarette smoke and provides numerous nonsmoking areas in casinos and hotel rooms.

“We do think it’s best to avoid court proceedings and we will
continue to communicate with the state on a
government-to-government basis,” he said.

A group of 13 lawmakers from southeastern Connecticut, where the casinos are located, said the ban would provide a healthier environment for workers and visitors. However, the lawmakers said both casinos have raised legitimate concerns over sovereignty and self-governance and favored negotiating with the tribes on such major public policy issues.

Other states also are grappling with the issue of smoking in casinos.

Two bills are stalled the Pennsylvania Legislature over regulation of smoking in casinos. Some have nonsmoking areas.

Atlantic City, N.J., restricts smoking to no more than 25 percent of each casino’s floor. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he considers it a temporary measure that will eventually give way to a total ban, but he said he would not push lawmakers to enact such a ban right away.

 

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