By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
A proposed change to the Cherokee Code would prohibit public indoor smoking at both Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Valley River Casino in Murphy – both owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). The ordinance change, which is expected to be deemed read and tabled during the June session of Tribal Council, states, “This section prohibits smoking, non-tobacco, and electronic cigarettes in indoor spaces of all gaming establishments of the Eastern Band.”
The proposed changes are to Cherokee Code Sec. 16-10.03. Indoor Smoking Prohibited. There are several exclusions to the law including “the smoking or consumption of tobacco used for the purposes of traditional Cherokee cultural ceremonies” and that the new law “shall not preclude smoking in private guest rooms that are specifically designed and disclosed to guests as ‘smoking’ rooms”.
Lavita Hill, an EBCI tribal member and one of the legislation’s submitters, told the One Feather, “By passing this ordinance change, Tribal Council will take an important step forward for the public health of our Cherokee people.”
She said there are numerous advantages to the move. “Smoke-free casinos have an easier time attracting employees, and those employees use fewer sick days. Insurance premiums will likely drop, not only for casino employee health care costs, but for fire and liability insurance as well. Cleaning and maintenance costs will go down. Immediately, our Cherokee people will become healthier. We will become healthier as a Tribe.”
Due to public health concerns, smoking has not been allowed at either of the casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic and Hill states that the lack of the ability to smoke has not hurt the bottom line. “Casino revenues, since going smoke-free a year ago, have not decreased. The financial experiment has already been done, and it has succeeded. People want our casinos to stay smoke-free. The financials support this decision too.”
Researchers studied the effects of a smoke-free casino on customer patronage in a 2011 study at the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino in Lac du Flambeau, Wisc. Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the research article entitled “Gambling with Our Health: Smoke-Free Policy Would Not Reduce Tribal Casino Patronage” surveyed a total of 957 casino players club members.
A total of 54 percent of the patrons said they would be “likely to visit more”, 18 percent said they would visit less, and the remaining 28 percent stated there indifferent.
Loretta Bolden, one of the legislation’s submitters, related, “Being that our casino is on our Boundary and we are a sovereign nation, we don’t have to follow the State of North Carolina’s rule to ban smoking inside our business. But, we have somewhat complied which makes a few of the employees and our guests somewhat happy.”
An employee at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort herself, as well as being an EBCI tribal elder, Bolden noted, “The table games employees get exposed to more secondhand smoke than most of us. Like the coronavirus, secondhand smoke spreads throughout the building. We have guests and employees with weak immune systems, are at risk of respiratory illness, or have had severe COVID-19 symptoms who would benefit immensely from us going smoke-free indoors as the majority of our sister tribes have done.”
According to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation (ANRF), a good many federally recognized tribes are re-opening their gaming establishments post-pandemic in a smoke-free environment including the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Cherokee Nation, Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, Colorado River Indian Tribe, Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and many others. To see an up-to-date listing of smoke-free casinos, visit: U.S. Smokefree Casinos and Gaming Properties (gamingdirectory.com)
Hill concluded, “We are not asking Tribal Council to do anything radical. We are just asking them to keep things the way they are now. We want the decision about this to be made by our Cherokee tribal leaders, not by corporate casino people in Las Vegas. We are a sovereign nation, and we should remember that.”
The ordinance was submitted by: Jessica Munson; Robin Wolfe, RN-BSN; Tracy Wolfe Birchfield, FNP-BC; Gerri Wolfe Grady; Quana Winstead, PA-C; Tara Reed; Krystle Bolden; Loretta Bolden; Becky Chiltoskie; Victoria Velasco; Marisa Cabe, FNP-BC; Tommy Cabe; Jesse C. Sneed; Leslie Lossiah Sneed; Jenny Bean; Jenea Murphy Taylor; Haley Cooper; Lavita Hill; and Tamara Thompson.
The One Feather sought comment from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino officials but did not receive one by press time.