2012-09-27 P-D: “Casino-funded petition group may wait to see what St. Charles does on smoking ban”

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This story appeared on-line initially on Wednesday, and then in Thursday’s print edition. Reporter Mark Schlinkmann packed a lot into it, more than I expected, after he interviewed me on Wednesday afternoon. And he seems to have gotten all the facts right as regards my conversation with him.

The concern over maintaining smoking in the Ameristar Casino is due to the unfounded fear of losing tax revenue if the casino becomes smoke-free, but the peer-reviewed study conducted for MoGASP and published last year doesn’t justify such a concern. In fact, the paper’s title in the journal Tobacco Control says it all:

Exempting casinos from the Smoke-free Illinois Act will not bring patrons back: They never left

Casino-funded petition group may wait to see what St. Charles does on smoking ban
September 27, 2012 12:05 am BY MARK SCHLINKMANN • mschlinkmann@post-dispatch.com > 636-255-7233

Former state Rep. Carl Bearden, who led an unsuccessful petition drive to put a smoking ban with widespread exemptions on the countywide ballot Nov. 6, said his group will hold off for now a decision on another signature-gathering effort aimed at a future election.
         “We will take a wait-and-see attitude,” Bearden said Wednesday of his Committee for Economic Liberty, which was funded by the Ameristar Casino and supported by many bar owners.
         “We haven’t fully decided. We’ll see what St. Charles city does.”
         Bearden was interviewed in the wake of a judge’s ruling Tuesday keeping off the Nov. 6 countywide ballot a two-proposition smoking ban package proposed by the St. Charles County Council.
         That package would have first asked voters whether to ban smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces with no exceptions.
         The second ballot question was on exempting places restricting customers and employees to people 21 and older, covering the casino and bars. Other exemptions also would have been included.
         Ameristar and other critics opposed the two-proposition plan, fearing that voters might approve the ban and reject the exemptions. Council supporters said it was a good approach since it gave residents three choices on the issue – a tough ban, a weak ban or no ban at all.
         Ameristar, located in St. Charles, provides millions of dollars in tax revenue to the city each year and city officials historically have opposed any measure requiring the casino to go smoke-free.
         Mayor Sally Faith earlier this week that she and the City Council planned to discuss enacting a city-only ban – but only one that wouldn’t affect the casino.
         She didn’t mention any other details but the main objective appears to be defense against losing any casino tax dollars because of lost business to competing gambling palaces.
         City Council President Laurie Feldman said the approach of exempting all 21-and-older facilities could be the best option but added that the council is unlikely to do anything until January at the earliest. Councilman Michael Klinghammer said he wants to begin council discussions sooner than that.
         Meanwhile, Martin Pion of Ferguson disclosed that his Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution, a nonprofit organization also known as MoGASP, funded the failed lawsuit to try to put the two-proposition package back on the countywide ballot.
         The plaintiff was Don Young of St. Charles, a throat cancer survivor and former smoker who has worked for years for smoking ban ordinances across the metro area.
         Pion said MoGASP, which he operates out of his home on a volunteer basis, provided a $2,500 retainer for the lawyer handling Young’s suit and owes at least $2,500 more. He said the group is now “financially insolvent” and seeking donations.
         “Hopefully this issue isn’t dead but it’s certainly a major setback,” Pion said of Circuit Judge Ted House’s ruling keeping the two-proposition package off the ballot.
         House said the council failed to comply with procedures for filing bills outlined in the county charter.

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