Tribal casinos remain last refuge for California smokers, at least for now

1of2Tribes can set the rules for their casinos, and only three of California’s 69 casinos are entirely smoke-free.Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press 2005 Smoking is prohibited in almost every enclosed public place in California, from bars and restaurants to sports arenas and movie theaters. Even parking garages ban the noxious fumes.

But tribal casinos in California remain a smoky outlier — at least for now. Only here can bettors play slot machines and other Vegas-style games in a setting reminiscent of the era when smokers were free to light up nearly anywhere they pleased.

Because the California tribes are sovereign nations, they’re not subject to many state laws, including California’s no-smoking regulations. They can set the rules for their casinos, and only three of California’s 69 tribal casinos are entirely smoke-free.

However, as more people give up their tobacco habits, the tribes are in a quandary. While they still see allowing gamblers to smoke as a good business decision, they know some visitors want fresh air to breathe and might be driven away by their policies.

That’s prompted the creation of more non-smoking areas — some in separate buildings with independent ventilation systems, others demarcated by little more than a sign — even as outright bans on cigarettes risk a substantial drop in cash flow.

“Ultimately, it’s an individual choice,” said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for San Pablo Lytton Casino in San Pablo, one of three tribal casinos in the Bay Area. “If people don’t like smoking, they’re not forced to go […]

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