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March 24, 2017

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Outside gaming expo, table-game dealers push for smoke-free casinos

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Jackie Valley

Opponents of smoking in casinos protest outside the Global Gaming Expo on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, at Sands Expo and Convention Center.

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Tom Devenish smokes a cigar while playing the slots at the Eldorado Casino in downtown Henderson on Friday, June 22, 2012.

Las Vegas dealers who picketed Tuesday morning outside the Global Gaming Expo say they can handle the occasional drunken customer or angry gambler losing bets.

But there’s another nuisance permeating their work environment they can’t tolerate: smoking. They’re tired of the carcinogenic puffs of smoke in their faces. Tired of gaming executives placing profits over employees’ health. And tired of inaction from the Nevada Legislature.

“If the state goes nonsmoking, there’s no competition,” said Cynthia Falls, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 721, which represents table-game dealers. “More than that, we deserve better. Why are we the last bastion for smokers?”

That’s the question the group posed to passers-by on Sands Avenue, outside the bustling Sands Expo and Convention Center, where attendees gathered to discuss all things gaming. The dozen picketers let their signs do the talking: “Casino employees are dying from secondhand smoke!” and “Go smoke free in casinos!”

Occasionally a passing vehicle honked in solidarity. Several suit-clad G2E attendees walked by without a word.

The lukewarm response hasn’t deterred Stephanie Steinberg, chairwoman of Smoke-free Gaming of America, from championing the cause, and she isn’t even a dealer. She’s a gambler who has been visiting Las Vegas for 20 years and fell into the advocacy work after learning about casino employees’ hardships — including dealers battling cancer or chronic asthma, or being subjected to secondhand smoke while pregnant.

For eight years, Steinberg has joined other smoke-free advocates and dealers to picket outside the massive gaming conference. They don’t consider it a protest because they’re not anti-gaming, just against smoking in casinos.

“The reality is most gamblers don’t smoke,” she said. “Smoking has become a thing of the past.”

As cities and states have enacted smoke-free laws, lighting up became prohibited in some casinos across the nation, including the $442 million Horseshoe Baltimore Casino that opened last year and Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel and Casino, both of which are Caesars Entertainment properties. MGM Resorts, meanwhile, is opening its $1.3 billion, smoke-free National Harbor Casino in Maryland next year. Macau also has implemented a partial smoking ban in its casinos.

Steinberg said public support for banning smoking in Nevada casinos has grown a little more each year, leaving her optimistic for the future. Some Las Vegas sportsbooks and poker rooms already ban smoking.

“It’s inevitable,” she said. “It’s going to happen. Nevada will be smoke-free.”

Falls said the union will put more boots on the ground, whether it’s members attending city council meetings or networking events, to advocate for a smoking ban in casinos. The effort relies on willing participants such as David Sackin, a longtime dealer who toted a sign along Sands Avenue on Tuesday.

His rationale for joining the movement: “I just feel it’s a moral responsibility.”

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