In one week it will officially become illegal, with a few exceptions, to smoke in public buildings everywhere in Indiana.
This is old hat for people in Fort Wayne. For years now its been illegal to smoke in bars, restaurants or any other public place in the city.
When the city imposed its complete ban, it didnt sit well with everyone. Many people said owners of restaurants and bars should be able to decide for themselves how to run their businesses, and in turn the public could then decide which businesses to patronize.
An argument was made, though, that people who worked in bars and restaurants were forced to be exposed to other peoples cigarette smoke. It wasnt good for them but they had no choice if they wanted to keep their jobs.
So smoke was forbidden, in the name of the publics health.
One presumes that the states ban is also motivated by public health concerns – people need to be protected from the smoke that other people create when they light up.
The state, though, is exempting a handful of places.
Private rooms in nursing homes are exempt, presumably because those places are essentially peoples homes.
Bars are exempt, presumably because the people who go to those places are 21 or older. They are there to drink, which isnt good for their health, so let them smoke, too.
And finally, casinos are exempt, presumably because – well, Im not sure.
Yes, the people who go to casinos are over 21, but I cant help but wonder. Is the states smoking ban really about public health, or is it just an anti-tobacco gesture that the state is afraid to push too far?
The exemption for casinos is particularly troubling to me because it suggests we have a legislature that is willing to foist its principles on everybody – except those who generate prodigious amounts of tax revenue for the state. The government isnt going to dare do anything to irritate the cash cows.
And casinos are cash cows.
The money generated by casinos declined during 2008 and 2009 during the depths of the economic slump, but the decline has stopped, and the total tax revenue, despite the slump, is still huge.
The people who pass through the turnstiles at casinos – 23 million visits so far this year – generate $3 each for the state, even if they dont gamble a cent.
In May alone, the states casinos paid $78.7 million in various taxes, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission. So far this year (casinos taxes are measured in a year that runs from July 1 to June 30), the various casinos in the state have paid $750 million in taxes.
One can understand why the state wouldnt want to do anything that might cause traffic to decline in a place that generates such a huge amount of cash for the state.
Still, I cant help but wonder. Isnt the state concerned about the health of those tens of millions of people who visit casinos each year?
The answer, to me, appears to be, not when theres nearly a billion dollars at stake.