A proposed ordinance that would have banned smoking at the Saracen Casino that it currently under construction was soundly defeated by the Pine Bluff City Council Tuesday night.
By a vote of 6-1 with one abstention, the council voted to suspend the rules and read the ordinance three times, then adopt it by the same margin.
The council met Tuesday because Monday was the Labor Day Holiday.
Council member Bruce Lockett, who sponsored the proposed ordinance cast the only yes vote and was unhappy with the decision to suspend the rules, describing it as “short circuiting the process.”
He said that while the council has suspended the rules in the case of emergencies such as buying police cars to increase public safety, the suspension in this case denied the public their opportunity to voice their opinion.
Lockett called for reading the proposed ordinance just once Tuesday, or no more than twice, and saving a final reading for a subsequent meeting, a proposal that Council Member Steven Mays favored, saying that Lockett was the sponsor of the legislation.
“Some things we have to do to respect others,” Mays said.
While Mays supported the idea of reading the proposal once or twice, he was one of the six members of the council to vote down the ordinance, joining Council Members Lloyd Holcomb Jr., Glen Brown Jr., Donald Hatchett, Ivan Whitfield and Joni Alexander.
Council member Win Trafford abstained as he has anytime the council considers legislation involving the casino because he has a business relationship with Downstream Development, the group that received the license to build and operate the casino, and with the Quapaw Indian Tribe.
While Trafford also did not take part in the pre-vote discussion, a number of other council members did with Council Members Hatchett and Whitfield saying that had this discussion come up months ago, before Downstream got the license, they might not have submitted a bid to build and operate the casino.
“I think we’re playing with something that is not good to play with,” Whitfield said.
Alexander agreed, saying that the non-smoking issue should have “come out on the front end.”
At a previous meeting of the Health and Welfare Committee, which is chaired by Hatchett, a representative of Downstream said that the State of Illinois banned smoking in casino’s in that state and revenue declined substantially.
Mayor Shirley Washington supported the idea of getting the issue settled, saying that it was a “serious matter. We need the tax revenue and the annexation (of the land where the casino is being constructed) is not completed.”
She said the council’s decision might play a role in whether or not Downstream seeks to annex the property, which is currently outside the city limits into the city.
She said she had visited the casino that Downstream operates in Oklahoma and the fact that patrons were smoking was not a factor.
At the committee meeting and again Tuesday, Whitfield said “drinking, smoking and gambling go together. It is what it is.”
“If people don’t want the experience, then don’t go,” Hatchett said.
Lockett said that even though his proposal was voted down, “it doesn’t mean it’s not dead,” suggesting the idea of a referendum to allow Pine Bluff residents to vote on the issue in the 2020 election.
“I see the value in a $300 million investment but people shouldn’t have to chose their health over tax revenue,” Lockett said. “A majority of the work places in Pine Bluff are smoke free.”
Also Tuesday, a proposed ordinance that would have closed railroad crossings on 4th Avenue at Alabama, State and Pine Streets was pulled before it could be read for a third time while traffic studies on the three streets is conducted.