Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ameristar Casino Smoking Ban Exemption

Dear County Executive Ehlmann,

I read online that Councilmen Cronin and Hollander are proposing a smoking ban with an exemption for a single named business, Ameristar Casino. Is such an exemption of a single named business from a public health law legal? A similar exemption was granted to Churchill Downs by the Louisville Metro Council a few year back. A judge later struck down not only the exemption as lacking a rational basis, but the entire law as well since passage of the law clearly depended on the exemption of the racetrack. Similarly, Councilman Cronin has made it clear the smoking ban would not be passed by the St. Charles County Council apart from the Ameristar exemption.

Councilmen Cronin and Hollander justify the casino exemption as a means to protect Ameristar Casino from competition with Harrah's casino in St. Louis County where smoking is still allowed. I would like to point out that smoking is also still allowed in St. Louis County bars and even bowling alleys. Don't St. Charles County bars also then have a well-justified concern that the proposed smoking ban would send their smoking customers elsewhere, either to Ameristar or to St. Louis County bars? Indeed, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank has published research showing that smoking bans hurt not only casinos but also bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Please find this research attached. Recently the Pub, a Lake St. Louis smoking bar, bore this research out when it fell victim to the Lake St. Louis smoking ban. Obviously the Pub's smoking customers went to locations where smoking is still allowed.

Finally I would like to point out that public health laws are never put on the ballot and for good reason. Voters do not have the time to research and evaluate the competing claims of business owners and public health advocates. In this case especially, the public health concerns of smoking in entertainment venues have been so overstated in the press that it is hard to imagine that a public vote on a smoking ban could be fair to St. Charles County business owners. Furthermore, mom and pop bars and restaurants do not have the resources to make their case to the voting public in competition with wealthy advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society. Removing Ameristar Casino from the smoking ban would only further ensure that funding for a competing campaign against the smoking ban will not be available. Is that fair?

Shouldn't the Council instead simply review the arguments for and against a smoking ban and then take a vote yourselves. The Council is really in the best position to hear the arguments of concerned business owners and then put in place the least burdensome regulation necessary to ensure public health. If a smoking ban is considered necessary, I would suggest an exemption for all "over 21" or "over 18" businesses such as the Tennessee smoking ban features. That way those establishments most threatened by smoking bans, both casinos and bars, would be excluded. And any worried establishment, including a restaurant, could be excluded from the ban by simple refusing minors admission to the establishment. Please find the Tennessee law attached.

County Executive Ehlmann, bar owners are worried sick about these looming smoking restrictions. But they do believe public health can be protected in a way that is legal and fair to all businesses, and in a way that respects property rights and adult free choice. It is really up to the County Council, not voters, to make that happen.

Thank you very much for considering my arguments concerning this issue.


Bill Hannnegan
314.315.3779 (cell)