Non-smoking push

Casino smoking opponents seeking to enlist investors of gambling companies for support

Reading time 1:52 min

Opponents of smoking in casinos are broadening their efforts by attempting to enlist investors to advocate for their cause. A national non-smoking group, in conjunction with a Michigan health system, has placed shareholder proposals on the agenda of annual meetings for two prominent gambling companies and is expected to add a third.

These proposals urge the companies to conduct studies on the potential financial benefits of transitioning their casino properties to smoke-free environments. While it remains uncertain whether these measures will garner approval from investors, the move comes as part of a multifaceted approach of casino smoking opponents to eliminate the activity within gambling venues. 

In New Jersey, this campaign has encompassed lobbying lawmakers for legislative action and initiating legal challenges to overturn indoor smoking laws that exempt casinos.

Trinity Health, a Michigan-based healthcare system, and the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation have submitted proposals to Boyd Gaming and Bally's Corporation for consideration during their respective annual meetings this year. A similar proposal has been presented to Caesars Entertainment, although the date of its annual meeting has yet to be announced.

"Many shareholders will be surprised to learn that these casino companies still allow indoor smoking, even in the year 2024, and that the policy is harming the very workers who were instrumental in the companies generating billions of dollars in revenue in 2023," said Cynthia Hallett, president of the non-smokers group, as reported by the Associated Press.

“If casinos will not do the right thing on their own, then we will continue to explore every avenue to protect the well-being of workers and patrons.”

The issue of smoking bans in casinos is contentious not only in New Jersey but also in other states where workers have expressed concerns about secondhand smoke. These include Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Virginia.

Pete Naccarelli, a veteran Borgata dealer and a leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, said: "We risk our lives every day just by going to work. It’s unacceptable, and long past time for casino corporations to end this outdated business practice. The least the casinos can do is study the impact of indoor smoking.”

Shareholder proposals historically face long odds of being approved. According to a study by the Conference Board presented last month, out of 913 shareholder proposals filed in 2023, only 71% were voted on, receiving an average support of 23%.

Gambling companies have opposed smoking bans and shareholder measures calling for a study, characterizing them as ordinary business matters best decided by company management. However, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has rejected these claims, ruling that the proposals should proceed.

Bally's, Boyd, and Caesars maintain their stance against the proposals, arguing that they would impose undue restrictions on company management and could jeopardize the competitive position of the casinos. For instance, Boyd Gaming cited concerns about potential disadvantages resulting from smoking bans.

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