BATON ROUGE, La. – An ordinance that would ban smoking in Baton Rouge’s casinos and bars is finally headed to the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council after a campaign launched in late January.
The Metro Council should vote on the ordinance in April, and it already has five of the seven votes it will need to pass from council members who are sponsoring it.
While smoking is already banned by Louisiana law in places of employment and public venues, the local proposal is designed to “close the gap that state law left,” said Stasha Rhodes, manager for the Smoke-Free Baton Rouge campaign. For example, while most universities and colleges already have prohibited smoking on campus, ones that haven’t in Baton Rouge would be included in the ban if it is passed.
The term “smoking” would encompass more than just cigarettes. Also prohibited under the law would be cigars, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, pipes, hookah, marijuana and any other lighted or heated product made from tobacco or plants that is meant to be inhaled, regardless of whether it’s natural or synthetic.
The ordinance would mean that Baton Rouge’s casinos would have to stop allowing people to smoke while they play — which Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans claimed drove down its revenue once New Orleans instituted a smoking ban.
The Baton Rouge city-parish government partially depends on casinos to bring in money.
The city has contracts for a percentage of net gaming proceedings from L’Auberge Casino and Hotel, Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Hotel and Hollywood Casino. The city-parish received $9.8 million from casinos last year in its $830 million budget.
None of the casinos have expressed opinions on the proposed smoking ban yet.
L’Auberge Casino and Hotel’s Vice President of Marketing Kim Ginn said late Thursday that they were reviewing the proposed ordinance internally and were not ready to publicly comment on it.
The five Metro Council members sponsoring the ordinance are Tara Wicker, Joel Boé, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green and Chauna Banks-Daniel. Rhodes said LaMont Cole is also a sponsor, though he was not listed on the agenda request. Cole could not be reached Thursday night to confirm if he sponsoring it.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso previously said he needed to see the exact wording of the proposal before deciding if he would vote for it. Before seeing the ordinance, Trae Welch and Scott Wilson said they were inclined to vote against it because they do not support government telling business owners what they can and cannot do.
John Delgado, who owns four bars in addition to being a councilman, said before seeing the ordinance that he would support a smoking ban for bars but not casinos.
The campaign to ban smoking has been widespread across the city-parish over the past couple of months, with billboards, radio ads and other advertisements asking people to support smoke-free workplaces.
The smoke-free Baton Rouge group leading the campaign also commissioned a poll that shows 70 percent of East Baton Rouge Parish registered voters approve of a law that “prohibits smoking in all workplaces, including bars and casinos.”
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent, and it surveyed 500 people over the phone in December.