City of Shreveport delays casino smoking ban

By Angel Albring | Special to BIZ. Magazine

Shreveport City Council voted Tuesday to grant a one-year delay on the smoking ban for casinos in Shreveport.

Ordinance 51 of 2020 prohibits smoking of any kind in any park or playground, as well as bars and casinos. The smoke-free ordinance first appeared on the city council agenda during the May 26, 2020 meeting, but it excluded casinos. That was amended during the council meeting on June 9, 2020 to include casinos and passed on a 4-3 vote.

The final, comprehensive ordinance passed by a vote of 5-2. Casinos and bars had 60 days to implement the changes.

After the ordinance was passed, casinos raised concerns over the ban and cited potential revenue and job losses that they predicted would happen due to casino patrons taking their business to Bossier City. Bossier does not have a smoking ban.

Council members Grayson Boucher (District D) and Jerry Bowman (District G), who both previously voted for the ban, changed course at Tuesday’s meeting.

During that meeting, Bowman said he felt like a smoking ban in Shreveport, but not in Bossier, would negatively affect jobs in Shreveport.

Boucher, who proposed the original smoking ban along with Councilman John Nickelson (District C), echoed those thoughts. He said that the potential loss of jobs if Libbey Glass shuts down its operating facility in Shreveport was “a turning point” for his decision on the smoking ban.

During the meeting, Boucher said one of Bossier’s casinos- DiamondJacks Casino & Hotel- has already ceased operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is the potential that we could lose El Dorado and several high paying jobs…. What do we have coming to Shreveport to provide jobs for these people if they lose their jobs? We can talk about secondhand smoke all day long in these casinos and what it does to the employees, but if those employees don’t have a job, it’s going to be worse,” he said.

Councilwoman LeVette Fuller (District B) raised concerns that this amendment would send the message that the council was putting profits above the health of Shreveport citizens.

“We have to acknowledge that right now we are far too beholden to special interests, like casinos, and that we’ve got to do more to improve the circumstances and the quality of employment and opportunities for employment in this city so that we don’t have to keep making choices between health and paychecks. Because that’s what we’re doing right now,” Fuller, who voted not to amend the ordinance, said.

Ashley Hebert, Smoke-Free Louisiana Coalition spokesperson, said in a written statement released Tuesday that the Coalition is “disappointed the City Council reversed course and delayed implementation of this life-saving ordinance that would help address many of the health equity challenges facing the Shreveport community.”

“Whether you’re a teacher, bartender, or card dealer, no employee in Shreveport should have to be exposed to deadly secondhand smoke every second of their work shift,” she said.

Further complicating this vote is COVID-19 and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins’s mask mandate. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Council also voted on an amendment to align Perkins’s mandate with Governor John Bel Edwards’s state-wide mask mandate, which went into effect Monday.

The council unanimously passed that amendment, with several members citing concerns over public health and safety.

“Mayor Perkins said COVID-19 is ‘the biggest public safety crisis that Shreveport has seen,’ yet the Council voted to allow smoking in casinos where patrons will be allowed to remove their masks and blow harmful secondhand smoke into the air. Wearing a mask protects others from respiratory droplets from potentially ill patrons. Removing the mask puts others at risk for contracting the virus. Not to mention, secondhand smoke exposure can damage the cardiovascular system and may make you more susceptible to coronavirus complications,” Hebert said.

In several recent studies, COVID-19 has been shown to be aggravated by respiratory damage caused by smoking.

“It is quite unbelievable that this council would determine that the life of workers in gaming facilities is less valuable than a bar worker, or, for that matter, any other employee in the city,” Tonia Moore, Director, the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, said in the same statement released by the Smoke-Free Louisiana Coalition.

“I will offer, as a final thought for the benefit of the public, that Mayor Perkins has authority to veto this legislation, and I respectfully urge him to do so if the council adopts it,” said Councilman Nickelson before the vote was held. Nickelson was the other dissenting vote on the amendment.

The amendment passed with a 4-2 vote and allows smoking on gaming floors, only. All other areas of the casino, and all other bars in Shreveport, must be smoke free by August 9, 2020.

Casinos now have until August 2021 to implement smoke-free gaming floors.

“I would suggest in the next year that we really start working because I will not do this for another year. This is it. This is their time. So, I’m telling each casino owner to get it together, because I ain’t going to be the one to vote for you… This is it,” said Boucher.