A proposal to amend a Pine Bluff City ordinance to ban smoking at the Saracen Casino which is currently under construction failed to win the approval of two members of the City Council’s Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday afternoon.
Council members Ivan Whitfield and Chairman Donald Hatchett voted to send the amended ordinance to the full council with a do-not pass recommendation. The third member of the committee, Council Member Bruce Lockett, who proposed the amendment to the current ordinance dissented.
Whitfield led the charge, saying that ground would not have been broken for the facility until the issue was settled.
“Gambling, drinking and smoking, they all go together,” Whitfield said.
Katherine Donald, who is the Executive Director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas said while she was excited about the prospect of the new casino creating a significant number of jobs, she was also concerned about the health of workers at the casino, saying that a majority of the people who will be hired will be “people of color, women, young people of a lower socio-economic background.”
She suggested that if people wanted to smoke while at the casino, they could go outside.
“Only 23.6 percent of the people in Arkansas smoke,” Donald said. “There is a much larger percentage that does not smoke and I’m asking you to help workers live healthier lives.”
Carlton Saffa, who works for Downstream Casinos, which is building the Saracen Casino and Resort provided information that the state of Illinois banned smoking in casinos and revenue in those casino’s fell 20 percent, and a similar drop would not be good for either the Saracen casino, the city of Pine Bluff or the state. Pine Bluff will receive 19.5 percent of the tax revenue collected on the casino while Jefferson County will get eight percent.
Saffa also said that the health of casino employees was a big concern by Downstream Development and the new casino will have an on-site medical facility on site, as well as a child-care facility, and space for emergency medical personnel, fire department and police department officers.
“It’s not going to be just a big building with a bunch of slots machines,” he said.
Lockett, who proposed the amendment, said he did so because he was concerned about the health issues, and said his research had indicated that there are 800 casino’s that are smoke free.
“I’m an advocate for a smoke free environment,” Lockett said. “I don’t believe your ability to smoke should impact my health.”
“One of the reasons I supported the casino was the jobs but they should be good quality jobs with 100 percent clean air,” he said.
Hatchett said people have a choice, to go to the casino or not to go, just as they have a choice to go to business in the city that are cigar bars.
“Businesses have the right to offer what ever experience their customers want,” Hatchett said.
In the most recent legislative session, the Arkansas General Assembly adopted a Senate sponsored bill that exempts casino’s from the Arkansas Indoor Clean Air Act and Lockett said that exemption doesn’t preclude local control such as the city’s non-smoking legislation.