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Casino Dealers Want Tobacco Ban

Publication Date: 2008-02-29
  • Author:MARK PETERS
  • Publication:Hartford (CT) Courant

The UAW is testing its new clout at Foxwoods Resort Casino, where the union successfully organized table game dealers in November, by trying to break up the long marriage of gambling and smoking.

Organizers with the United Auto Workers are pushing legislation that would ban smoking on the casino floors of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. As a result, blackjack and poker dealers have been roaming the halls of the Capitol in recent days asking legislators to support the anti-smoking bill. Some are expected to speak at a public hearing and press conference on the bill in Hartford today.

The legislation is being presented as a simple workplace safety issue. But it's venturing into several sensitive areas: A union is attempting to force change at a business that refuses to recognize it; the state is looking to extend its regulations onto sovereign Indian reservations; and, if enacted, the bill would ban smoking in one of the few public places that have resisted anti-smoking measures..

The greater issue, the tribes said, is sovereignty, which in part kept legislators from including casinos in a 2003 state law banning smoking at restaurants and bars everywhere else in Connecticut. The Mohegan tribe described the law as "an inappropriate assault" on the state's legal relationship with the tribe; the Mashantucket Pequot tribe said there are obvious jurisdictional issues.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, an advocate of states' rights and the right of workers to unionize at the casinos, said he believes the casino smoking bill could be open to legal challenge.

He said the state may ultimately prevail in court, but he predicted that any smoking ban would be tied up in litigation for years. He said a better tack would be negotiation with the tribes.

"An agreement may reach the same goal...perhaps more quickly with less cost," Blumenthal said.

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