News Column

Smokers Not Eligible for Jobs in Some Ohio Casinos

Jan. 26, 2012

Laura A. Bischoff


Job seekers who smoke, chew tobacco or even use nicotine patches won't be considered for the 3,200 casino jobs in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio, when Penn National starts filling positions later this year.

Hollywood Casino Columbus General Manager Ameet Patel said applicants who test positive for nicotine will be disqualified and workers will be subject to random tests during employment.

Penn National's policy will mean no tobacco use on or off the job for their 3,200 workers and Ohio's indoor smoking ban means customers will have to step outside before lighting up.

Penn National is joining the ranks of thousands of companies and hospitals that refuse to hire smokers in the hopes of curbing medical costs and encouraging a healthier workforce.

Patel, a 22-year veteran of the casino world, called it an unusual if not unprecedented step in an industry where a vast majority of customers are smokers. "It is a very, very big change," he said.

The Toledo and Columbus casinos will be the only two of Penn's 21 properties that ban tobacco use among employees, Patel said.

Rock Gaming plans to hire 3,300 workers for casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati. It won't prohibit workers from using tobacco, but it will give employees and dependents cash incentives to quit, said spokeswoman Jennifer Kulczycki.

Twenty-nine states passed laws making it illegal to refuse to hire smokers, but Ohio isn't among them, said Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, a spinoff of the ACLU and opponent of hiring bans.

Maltby calls smoker hiring bans misguided. "To not hire smokers, you would have to turn down the most qualified applicant one out of every five times," said Maltby, noting that nearly 20 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes.

"Turning them down is a loss...The savings are very visible. The cost is less visible."

He added, "When does this stop? There is nothing unique about smoking. Smoking is one of 100 things Americans do that are unhealthy."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19.3 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes, while 22.5 percent of Ohioans do so. The CDC says smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in America and attributes one in five deaths to tobacco use.

The vast majority of casino patrons smoke. Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia do not have statewide smoking bans and Michigan and Pennsylvania's bans exempt casinos.

Kulczycki said Rock Gaming isn't worried that gamblers will shun the Ohio casinos because of the smoking ban. "We think there are a lot of things that will be attractive to smokers and non-smokers," she said.

"There are casinos that are smoke-free and they're still open," said Shelly Kiser of the American Lung Association. "I'm confident (the Ohio casinos) will do fine. And I'm confident it is what the people of the state want."

Source: (c) 2012 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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