By LAVITA HILL
Big Cove Community
In May, a group of enrolled EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) members submitted an ordinance change to Tribal Council which will ban smoking on the gaming floors of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Valley River Casino Resort. Our casinos have been smoke-free since they re-opened for business in May 2020. The results of our casinos going smoke-free have been wonderful, and it is time for Tribal Council to enshrine the smoking ban into our tribal law.
Everyone knows smoking and second-hand smoke inhalation are terrible for your health. Casino employees go to work every day to a workplace that they know is unhealthy for them. We know it is unhealthy for them. How often do we hear that the casino cannot find workers? A big reason for this, despite the good paying wages, is that many people will not work in a place that they know will harm their long-term health.
Casinos around the country have been going smoke-free, including many tribal casinos. Smoke-free casinos have an easier time attracting employees, and those employees use fewer sick days and enjoy their workplace more. Employee health care costs decrease from not being constantly exposed to second-hand smoke, and the insurance savings multiplied and realized over time are substantial. Tribal member casino employees and patrons will become healthier from not spending hours each day breathing in second-hand smoke. Our Tribe will become healthier. We all have family members who work at our casinos. I want my family members who work there to breathe easier and be healthier.
Let’s face it, people are worried about the money. Will people still come and play? The evidence all says, yes, they will! You can see from your June per cap checks that being smoke-free has not hurt our casino business one bit.
Harrah’s Cherokee General Manager Brooks Robinson was quoted last week in another publication saying, “Visitation and revenue have steadily increased since reopening last May and exceeded our forecasts each month.” Our casinos continue to exceed forecasts each month! This is pretty strong evidence people like the new smoke-free environment.
More than 85 percent of people in our country do not smoke. We have gained new customers who do not like cigarette smoke and will otherwise avoid it. Furthermore, the experience with our casinos over the past year has been replicated all over Indian country and all over the United States! Hundreds of casinos have gone completely smoke-free, and they are continuing to make record revenues. Smoke-free is now what people want and what they are coming to expect.
There are substantial cost savings from going smoke-free. The overhead machines that filter the smoke are very expensive to install and constantly maintain. Going smoke-free will result in lower general liability, property, and fire insurance costs. There are all sorts of other incidental costs savings, from not having to deal with cigarette burns everywhere, to not having to make repeated repairs from cigarette ash seeping into slot machines.
Over time society changes. It used to be unthinkable that people would not be able to smoke in bars, restaurants, or on airplanes. Those industries claimed they would lose billions of dollars. Not true! None of that happened. It was all scare tactics from corporate industry lobbyists who wanted to keep people hooked on a dangerous and unhealthy drug. Businesses all over made money from going smoke-free.
I don’t want Harrah’s making decisions about my health and the health of my fellow tribal members. I believe corporate casino executives in Las Vegas do not care about the health and well-being of us as Cherokee people. However, our Tribal Council members should care. Tribal Council is fully empowered to take this action. Encourage your Council members to be leaders of our sovereign Nation who will make laws for the benefit of our own people.
Smoking inside of casinos will eventually go the way of smoking on airlines or in restaurants and bars and be consigned to the ash heap of history. This is the undeniable societal trend. The EBCI can be out in front of this trend and reap the rewards of being out front by seeing millions of dollars in increased revenues and cost savings, and the betterment of enrolled members’ health and lives, or we can be dragged kicking and screaming into it later on down the road. It’s Council’s choice.
There is no easier move Tribal Council can make to improve – immediately – the health and welfare of the lives of our enrolled members than to pass this ordinance change, right here, right now. We always like to say our Tribe is a leader in Indian Country. Let’s be leaders here.