Smokefree Casino Advocates Respond to Rivers Casino Portsmouth's Ventilation Claims

Ventilation Systems "Are Not Effective Against Secondhand Smoke” and “Can Reduce Only Odor and Discomfort, But Cannot Eliminate Exposure" to Toxins

January 24, 2023



Portsmouth, VA— Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, which advocates for smokefree casinos across the country, released the following statement after Rivers Casino Portsmouth claimed their ventilation systems protect employees and guests from dangerous secondhand smoke inside their casino:

“The engineers who design ventilation systems have repeatedly told casinos to stop claiming that they protect casino workers and guests from dangerous secondhand smoke. They remove odor, not harm. Claiming otherwise might sound like a reasonable solution, but it’s far from it. Casino employees deserve a safe workplace, and guests deserve a safe playing experience. It’s telling that local residents are already speaking out against indoor smoking at the new casino. It’s time to end this outdated business practice. After all, research shows that casinos without indoor smoking generate more revenue than their smoking counterparts." 

Ventilation systems are not the answer, according to the engineers who design such systems and collectively make up the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). “[Ventilation systems] are not effective against secondhand smoke” and “can reduce only odor and discomfort, but cannot eliminate exposure,” they wrote to casino executives. “There is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air-cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of [environmental tobacco smoke] to an acceptable level.”

A report by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming found that casinos without indoor smoking outperform their smoking counterparts. “Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue. In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”

More and more casinos nationwide are going smokefree, including Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip. At least 160 sovereign Tribal gaming venues have implemented 100% smokefree policies during COVID-19, 23 states require commercial casinos to be smokefree indoors, and more than 1,000 gaming properties do not permit smoking indoors.

In Case You Missed It: What Rivers' Guests Are Saying After Night 1

I will never come here again until they ban cigarette smoking inside this building,” Beth Grimes said. “I hadn’t even sat down yet to play a game. I’m leaving. I’ve been in this building 30 minutes walking around, and all of a sudden, as more people have come in and sat down, they’re smoking, smoking, smoking.”

She’s not the only one who abruptly left because of it.

Asked about whether he knew the casino would be open for smokers, David Spry of Norfolk said that “had I known, I simply wouldn’t have come.”

“I finally quit,” Spry said. “And I’m not going to be putting myself into a position where I’m going to get second-hand smoke. This is just not OK.”


Pam Francis also didn’t know about the smoking policy at Rivers Casino. “So if they’re going to have a section for smokers, that’s one thing,” Francis said. “But to subject everybody that goes into their casino to cigarette smoking, I think it’s backwards, archaic, disgusting, and I won’t ever come here again.”

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Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights (ANR) is a member-supported, non-profit advocacy group that has been working for 45 years, since 1976, to protect everyone’s right to breathe nontoxic air in workplaces and public places, from offices and airplanes to restaurants, bars, and casinos. ANR has continuously shined a light on the tobacco industry’s interference with sound and life-saving public health measures and successfully protected 61% of the population with local or statewide smokefree workplace, restaurant, and bar laws. ANR aims to close gaps in smokefree protections for workers in all workplaces, including bars, music venues, casinos, and hotels. For more information, please visit and