The chances of people in Baton Rouge being able to light up cigarettes in casinos and bars are dimming, as a proposed ordinance to ban smoking in public and enclosed spaces has the majority of Metro Council members on board as sponsors.
The official language of the ordinance was released Wednesday, along with the list of the seven Metro Council members sponsoring it — which is the number of votes it will need to pass. The Metro Council is expected to vote June 28 on whether to write the smoking ban into law, and it would go into effect 180 days afterward.
A campaign to douse the cigarette smoke in Baton Rouge's bars and casinos reignited Wednesda…
Randy Hayden, a media consultant for the Smoke Free East Baton Rouge Coalition, said Thursday he is excited about the support, but not ready to ease off the gas of their campaign yet.
"That's before any of the public hearings and you don't count those chickens before they have hatched and flown the coop," Hayden said. "We're still going to talk to all of the council people and we're hoping we get more on board."
Of the seven Metro Council members who have agreed to sponsor the ordinance, some supported it last year and others are fresh faces. Newcomers who agreed to sponsor the ordinance are Matt Watson and Barbara Freiberg. And the others sponsoring it again after it failed last year are Tara Wicker, LaMont Cole, Donna Collins-Lewis, Chauna Banks and Erika Green.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome is also supporting the ordinance.
Watson and Freiberg are key votes, as neither of their predecessors — former councilmen Ryan Heck and John Delgado — supported the smoking ban when it failed one year ago. New Orleans banned smoking in bars and casinos in 2015, and Lafayette banned it earlier this year.
A monthslong campaign to ban smoking in Baton Rouge’s casinos and bars was extinguished Wedn…
"We need to have a serious debate about this going forward and I look forward to a very vigorous debate," Watson said. "I am going to vote for this unless someone can show me a way where this particular ordinance is written in a manner that can't be passed, meaning the legal mechanics of it all."
For those who enjoy smoking socially, some exemptions are written into the law. Cigar bars, hookah bars and outdoor seating, patios and courtyards at bars and casinos will all be able to allow smoking. And the ordinance also says "private clubs" can be exempted from its reach.
The Baton Rouge Fire Department will be responsible for enforcing the smoke ban, if it passes.
The proposed ordinance says any business owner who violates the law could be fined $500 on their first offense, $700 for their second offense within a year and $900 for their third offense within a year. If a business owner violates the law five or more times within a year, he or she could lose their occupancy permit. Patrons caught lighting up at a smoke-free business would be fined $50 per violation.
Some Metro Council members are wary of the proposed ban on smoking in bars and casinos for financial and other reasons.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he's particularly worried about City Hall's finances taking a hit in a ripple effect from banning smoking in casinos and bars. Baton Rouge's government anticipates receiving $9.5 million in gaming revenues this year from the casinos, and received $9.8 million from them in 2016 — the largest share of which, by far, came from L'Auberge Casino and Hotel.
Pointing to revenue losses at Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, casino executives from Baton Rouge have said they would expect 20 percent losses in revenue should a smoking ban go into effect. Caesars Entertainment Corporation reported that after a smoking ban was imposed in New Orleans, Harrah's saw its revenue drop by $35 million in 2015, by an additional $34 million in 2016 and anticipates a further $3 million drop in 2017.
Casinos have been mounting their defenses against a proposed ban on smoking in casinos and b…
"If we lose 20 percent, where do we make that money up from?" Amoroso said about the gaming revenues City Hall receives from casinos.
Representatives from L'Auberge, the Hollywood Casino, the Belle of Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Casino Association either said they did not have anything further to add beyond their previously stated opposition or did not return messages.
The Louisiana Casino Association said late last month that casino patrons are educated enough to determine what kind of environment they wanted to enter, and that casinos nationwide have seen visits decline after going smoke-free.
Still, Smoke Free East Baton Rouge advocates have countered that taxpayers are also suffering from paying the medical bills from smoke-related illnesses.
"The health and safety of the citizens far outweigh any negative impact," said Wicker.