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Smoking Ban Raises Questions for Casinos
Even though gaming floors are exempt from Iowa’s statewide somking ban, the new law still poses challenges for the state’s 17 licensed casinos, said officials during the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission meeting.Jack Ketterer, the commission’s administrator, said questions have arisen about what role the commission plays in the implementation of Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act, which bans smoking in many public places but excludes gaming floors, among other areas.
Ketterer told commissioners there is still confusion over whether the Iowa Department of Public Health or other state agencies will handle complaints about smoking at casino facilities. Gambling research, casino crimes that are on the increase and other issues also were discussed during the meeting Thursday at Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston.
“They have a big task at public health to interpret the statute and implement these rules on short notice,” said Ketterer. “I’m sure it will be an evolving issue.”
Ketterer said state officials from several agencies have agreed that gaming floors, which he defined as areas where gaming activities take place, are the responsibility of the commission. The definition of “enclosed areas” at gambling facilities will be determined by the public health department, he said. Diagrams and pictures of restaurants and bars near gaming floors in Iowa casinos will be sent to public health officials who will use the pictures and diagrams in assessing complaints about how the ban applies to those areas, he said.
Ketterer said anyone who goes through the state’s two publicly owned racetrack facilities’ grandstands and the “apron” areas in front of the casinos, won’t be able to smoke there. Smoking is allowed on all Iowa gaming floors, he said. Restaurants and bars within the gaming floors are not exempt and no smoking is allowed, he said.
Smoking is allowed outside, he said. No smoking is allowed in areas on the properties, such as enclosed barns, kennel buildings, racing offices or jock’s rooms, he added.
Commissioners also heard from Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Assistant Director Charis Paulsen who told commissioners about the background investigations that 109 agents conduct on gaming companies and casino employees. Five agents also investigate non-casino crimes, including bookmaking, illegal gambling, amusement devices and lottery ticket forgery.
Paulsen said due to the expansion of gaming in Iowa, low-level gaming licenses increased from 1,790 in 2003 to 2,716 in 2006. In 2007, the agency conducted 2,527 gaming background checks, and 6,812 checks were performed on employees, she said.
Criminal investigations are conducted in all casinos, she said. Agents help casino officials check the identification of patrons and eject unruly or intoxicated patrons, among other things. Agents are most frequently involved in cases that include public intoxication, disorderly conduct, theft and gambling investigations, which include cheating and the use of Iowa licenses to gain unlawful entry into casinos in the state, she said. They also look for patrons who engage in “buffalo hunting,” which Paulsen said involves patrons who look for coins on the casino floors and slot or racing tickets that can be turned in for cash, which don’t belong to them.
Paulsen said the DCI tracks casino crimes across the state. Here are the crimes Paulsen reported for the state’s 17 licensed casinos in 2007:
*Â 194 public intoxication and disorderly conduct cases
*Â 74 thefts
*Â 29 gambling investigations
*Â 69 fraud cases
*Â 64 forgery cases
*Â 88 criminal trespass cases
*Â 34 assaults
She said the biggest increases were in cases of forgery, assaults and people who applied for gaming licenses but were arrested for having outstanding warrants, which Paulsen said has increased tenfold, but she did not provide the warrant figures or comparative data.
Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, warned the commission about the effects of problem gambling on society. She said 1 percent of the population has problems with gambling, and certain groups, including college students, ethnic minorities and older adults, may be more vulnerable to developing problems with gambling.
“That’s a lot of people we need to care about,” she said.
Ketterer also told commissioners that the state database that will track gamblers who win $10,000 won’t be operational until September. The winners’ names will be checked against the database to see if they owe child support and other types of government debts, and if they do, their winnings will be confiscated.