The smoke-free casino movement

Indian Country Today

Clinton Isham and Bronson Frick of the American Non-Smokers Rights Foundation update us on the tribal casino smoke-free movement. Plus national correspondent Dalton Walker answers the stereotypical question: Do Natives pay taxes?

As tribal leaders cautiously reopened the casinos during the pandemic, some chose to do it smoke-free. We speak with Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa citizen Clinton Isham as well as Bronson Frick the Director of advocacy for the American Non-Smokers Rights Foundation who give us an update on how tribal casinos are leading the smoke-free movement. 

When the New York Times reported on Donald Trump's tax returns, it prompted the question that many Native Americans still endure. Do Natives pay taxes? Indian Country Today's national correspondent Dalton Walker joins us to answer that and more.

Some quotes from Clinton Isham:

There is nothing but great news on the tribal casino front and the gaming in general as far as starting to reopen. In the beginning of this year, many of the tribal casinos were closed. And I think a lot of casinos were trying to figure out the safest way to open as possible. There was already a trend coming in around healthier living and clean indoor spaces and things like that initiated by the smoke free movement. I think a lot of casinos were already on the verge of creating these policies. But in the wake of COVID-19 it became a reality as far as tribal leaders demanding it. And gaming managers demanding that when their casinos reopened that they reopened smoke-free. Something that American Non-smokers Rights Foundation has done was try to help create media as far as best practices and how to go forward with that. And really just trying to mobilize advocates and tribal citizens and other gaming leaders. People want clean indoor spaces, especially now. If casinos were to reopen they should reopen the cleanest possible. That way they could have more people coming in, spending more money, spending more time at these casinos. Hopefully they'll be able to have some sort of rebound as far as the loss that they occurred when they were closed.

So before covid there was five tribal casinos that were 100% smoke-free. One of them was Ho-Chunk gaming in Madison, Wisconsin. Then there were a few in California and a couple in New York and then one in New Mexico. Right around when Covid first started a few casinos in California started reopening smoke-free. And then Bronson Frick and I had a conversation about what would be the best possible way we can help tribal gaming casinos and tribal governments spread this information that casinos are smoke free and are very successful. These policies work. And if they reopened smoke free that it could be very beneficial. And so Bronson and I worked very hard with creating some media and then disseminating the media across Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, YouTube and things like that.

And another thing that we did was we had a lot of webinars throughout the year on smoke-free tribal gaming again with the audience being tribal citizens, tribal gaming managers, casino industry and health advocates. So just really this big collective effort to spread the information that these things are good. Upon all of these things happening as of today, over 135 tribal gaming casinos are 100% smoke-free some of these are temporary. One thing that I wanted to mention tis that because of this tribal initiative of casinos going smoke free, a lot of non-tribal gaming casinos are now following this tribal movement.

Bronson Frick:

There was already significant momentum on the trend for smoke-free casinos before the pandemic. However with renewed interest in respiratory health and the impact that can have on business and perceptions of safety going into a building. The trend is certainly continued at an unprecedented rate. There were already numerous countries that required smoke-free indoor air in all of their casinos. And in the United States, there were already nearly 800 smoke-free casinos and gambling venues. Most of those being the commercial state regulated venues. During the pandemic, it was really the leadership of sovereign tribes taking the step to implement smoke free policies as part of their reopening plans that has really driven a lot of this recent momentum. And in response to the early leadership of tribes on this issue now we have seen commercial operators and States really following their lead.

There's a lot of layers to this. So right now, regardless of smoking status, gaming revenue is obviously down. You know, it's been a lot of disruption. Traditional players may have lost their jobs. There's less discretionary spending. So even casinos that do still have smoking like those in Las Vegas. There's been a massive decline in gaming revenue. Going back to a point that you were raising with Clinton. Today, 90% of young adults are non-smokers. So that's like Gen Z and millennials. And with senior Americans age 65 and over, 92% of them are non-smokers. So this really provides an opportunity for casinos to reopen after deep cleaning and really maximizing that investment in creating a safe, welcoming environment for everyone. What we're finding is from various surveys is that even many smokers who are gaming enthusiasts also prefer a smoke-free indoor air environment. People don't necessarily want to breathe other people's smoke. And so stepping outside to a patio is a modification that is not that big of a change for players, but it does keep the indoor air fresh and welcoming for everyone.

As far as the sovereign tribal gaming facilities, there are many major casinos that have implemented smoke-free indoor air. These include Mohegan Sun, Pechanga casino in Southern California. Many of the major tribal gaming facilities across the Midwest are now smoke-free including Four Winds and so many others. And if you look at, at a state by state level. In Michigan there are now around a dozen smoke-free tribal gaming facilities. Which really led the way, and all of the Michigan state regulated casinos are also now smoke-free in Detroit as part of a state reopening guideline. But it was really the tribes that led the way. Overall there are now around 1000 smoke-free casinos and gaming venues in the US. It's really becoming the industry standard. In addition, there are recent announcements, MGM resorts reopened a casino called Park MGM, which is on the Las Vegas strip that is reopened with a smoke free policy. It really shows the changing expectations on this issue really across gaming markets.

Dalton Walker:

Before Trump said that he had the Coronavirus there was a report by the Times that he paid little federal income tax. Federal income taxes being the key phrase here. We periodically want to remind our readers and potential readers who happen to find IndianCountryToday.com that Native people do pay taxes just like all US citizens. It's an unfortunate thing that continues after all these years to the point that credible Native websites for the Native American Rights Fund and the interior Department have answered it as part of its frequently asked questions. I just found it interesting that they felt it was needed to be included in 2020.

Well, sometimes we publish articles just for the fact that this is what's going on. Some feedback we were getting was reinforcing what was right. Like this is the rule, this is what's happening. These stereotypes exist for whatever reason, but yes, this is right. There were some that were that were learning, which is good. That's always the key process. if there can be a teachable moment or someone can take something from our stories too.

Like I mentioned earlier, federal taxes was the news peg because that's what was learned. Now related to state taxes and other types of taxes. It’ll have different layers when it comes to Native people, tribal governments and Indian country as a whole. Basically with reservations in each state, tribes are their own sovereign nation, with their own government codes. So they get to decide what needs to be taxed and what type of taxes can be implemented and what type of taxes employees have to pay regarding the state process. So it's really, it's really up to them.

I'm working on a few things, of course election stuff related. We are 28 days out. So please register if you haven't. Make your voice be heard. A story we're following that continues to develop is related to Arizona and election day mail-in balloting. Six citizens up in Navajo nation have challenged the state in allowing their mail in ballots to be counted after election day. Which Arizona is one of the states that don't allow it. A judge struck it down and said no, but it has been appealed. And that appeal should be heard here in the coming days. That's not great news for the plaintiffs, but at the same time, that's potential news that they could make things change. This comes as a federal judge pushed back Arizona's voter registration deadline from October 5th to October 23rd. But when you think about it, it took a judge's decision for that to happen.

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