Casino Workers Group Fighting Indoor Smoking Invites Rivers Portsmouth Workers to Join Fight

“We have made major progress on this bipartisan legislation, and we’re close to getting these bills passed. We believe you can do the same in Virginia.”

January 31, 2023



January 31, 2023 | Contact: 


Portsmouth, VA— Leaders of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) have reached out to casino workers at the newly opened Rivers Casino Portsmouth, inviting them to join their fight to get rid of smoking inside casinos and protect the health of workers and guests. In an open letter to Rivers employees, CEASE noted the dangerous health risks associated with working in smoke-filled casinos and the progress of their worker-led campaign to close the casino smoking loopholes in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Kansas and Pennsylvania. Smoke does not adhere to arbitrary boundaries. Separate sections and ventilation systems will not remove the risk to employees and guests. That’s why a policy of 100% smokefree indoor air is the only solution.

River’s grand opening last week was met with sharp criticism from customers concerned about smoking indoors, with some saying they won’t return until the policy is changed.

“We all must feed our families and pay the bills, therefore we must also breathe the dangerous secondhand smoke being blown into our faces for eight hours a day,” writes CEASE. “As a result, too many of us have been dealt diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, asthma and more. We’ve had to breathe this poison through pregnancies, while receiving treatment for cancer, and while wondering what exactly is happening to our health as yet another smoker lights up three feet in front of us, not giving a damn about our well-being. We are essentially the only group of workers left in society forced to choose between our health and a paycheck.”

“We’ve spent the last year-and-a-half urging legislation in our states to pass a bill to close the casino smoking loophole in state law that gives Big Casinos a special exemption that no other businesses receive,” the letter continues. “We have made major progress on this bipartisan legislation, and we’re close to getting these bills passed. We believe you can do the same in Virginia.”

CEASE also pushed back on claims by Rivers about the effectiveness of having “the most powerful ventilation system money can buy.”

“The ventilation systems that Rivers Casino Portsmouth have been touting 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),” they write.

“We want to help you, the employees of Rivers Casino Portsmouth, not suffer silently every day that you go to work,” concludes the letter. “We know all about the fears of speaking out, and that’s why the first step of joining our group of thousands of casino employees nationwide will help ensure you have strength in numbers.”

Read the entire letter.


Experts at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have concluded that ventilation systems are not a solution to indoor smoking. “[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 

“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.”

Read more here and here.

Casino Employees Against Smoking (Harmful) Effects (CEASE) is a group of thousands of casino dealers and other frontline gaming workers that is fighting to permanently remove smoking from our workplaces. CEASE has chapters working to close the casino smoking loophole in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Kansas.