SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois gamblers would be able to smoke on riverboats for the first time in nearly three years and the state could pick up an extra $200 million a year, according to proponents of legislation headed to the House floor.
The Executive Committee approved a measure Monday by Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, that would permit the state's nine riverboat casinos to set up segregated, enclosed smoking areas.
Thapedi says the statewide public smoking ban that took effect in 2008 has sent gamblers to other states which still allow smoking in casinos, hurting Illinois revenue.
Opponents say it's a step back for public health and that it isn't smoking, but how nice a gambling facility is, that governs business success.
A 2009 study by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis estimated that Illinois lost $200 million in revenue from taxes on casinos during the first year of the smoking ban.
"You might ask, 'Why do people smoke? Why do people gamble?' The fact of the matter is, it happens," said Rep. Joseph Lyons, D-Chicago. "It's an undisputed fact that smokers are going to go somewhere they can smoke."
The legislation does not say how big the rooms may be but says people must state in writing that they want access to them. Employees must apply to work there.
Opponents aren't satisfied. Kathy Drea of the American Lung Association of Illinois said it's impossible to keep second-hand smoke completely confined to smoking rooms and that casino employees will face increased health risks from it.
She pointed out that a Rock Island casino opened a revamped casino in 2009 and outperformed a boat across the Mississippi in Davenport, Iowa, which allows smoking.
"It's the facility that makes the difference, not the smoking law," Drea told lawmakers.
The bill is HB1850.
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