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Cedar Rapids: Give Us a Smoke-Free Casino

Ted Murphy/flickr
Hard Rock Casino

A state lawmaker from Cedar Rapids today grilled the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission over a proposed license for a smoke-free casino in their city.  

The commission denied Cedar Rapids a gaming license in 2014, citing a saturated market for casinos.  

The city is arguing that a smoke-free casino would fill an unmet need, since smoking is allowed in other gambling houses, an exemption to Iowa’s law banning smoking in public places. 

Democrat Kirsten Running-Marquardt reminds Gaming Commission Administrator Brian Ohorilko that license applicants are supposed to pass safety standards.

“Is smoking and second-hand smoke a safety issue?”  Running-Marquardt asked. 

“I don’t think we have the answer to that," Ohorilko replied.   "It depends on who you ask."     

“It’s been determined,” Running-Marquardt replied.  “Scientists and health experts have determined that second-hand smoke is a safety concern.

“Why don’t they consider it a safety issue?” she persists.

“I’m not trying to dodge your question, Representative,"  Ohorilka said.  "It’s not something that’s been asked of the commission.”  

The exchange occurred at an interim committee meeting that was called to study the issue.

Lawmakers heard from a DCI special agent who works in casinos, who argued against allowing smoking.

While Cedar Rapids was denied a casino license, commissioners last year granted a license for Greene County.

A bill to mandate a non-smoking license for Cedar Rapids remains eligible for debate when lawmakers reconvene in January, though it languished in House and Senate committees last year.  The bill would also impose a moratorium on other new casino licenses.

The gaming industry opposes the bill.   A lobbyist for the Iowa Gaming Association says the bill would usurp the authority of the Racing and Gaming Commission.