Smokefree Casinos: Design for Success

Smokefree casinos and other gaming venues are now the norm in many U.S. regional gaming markets, competing successfully and providing safe, healthy jobs and entertainment without the toxic secondhand smoke.

Making a smooth transition to smokefree indoor air comes down to some basic issues like having outdoor smoking decks located conveniently off the gaming floor.

To be clear, at a smokefree indoor air casino, there is still smoking and smokers – just like how people who smoke still go to restaurants and bars. It is simply about moving the smoking to an outdoor area where it won’t impact the health of everyone else at the property – especially the workers.

Some outdoor smoking patios are non-gaming – where people can step out, light up, and come back in – just like getting up from a game to use the restroom, eat, or enjoy a property’s non-gaming amenities.  Smoking patios in some cases also have gaming machines, where people can sit, smoke, and play, even though many smokers may just prefer to go back in to the excitement of the gaming floor.

In either case, here are some tips: Outdoor smoking areas should be unenclosed and open to the air.  Outdoor smoking areas should not be staffed, meaning there should not be a bar, live dealer table games, or  drink or food service). Prohibit smoking in these areas during routine cleaning and maintenance times to limit any worker exposure to secondhand smoke. Have high ceilings to facilitate air flow.  Ensure there are double doors between the gaming patio and main building to prevent the wafting of smoke back inside.

There is significant debate over whether outdoor smoking gaming spaces should be allowed at casinos under smokefree laws. On one hand, they can work well if no one has to go into the area as part of their job. On the other hand, casinos have a tendency to creatively interpret what it means to be outdoors, at the expense of public health. A room with walls, slatted windows, or covered in tarps or garage doors is not outdoors. A one inch gap at the top of a wall is not outdoors. The problem is human exposure to secondhand smoke – a potent carcinogen and a top preventable cause of disease and death. There is no safe level of exposure.

Casino operators, designers, and architects now have significant experience across many states in making smokefree indoor air a great part of the business – or at least a non-issue.  As part of future casino design or major renovations, we suggest pre-planning for smokefree indoor air. That way, there is a plan in place that is simple to implement.


photo of the smoking patio at Ameristar Black Hawk off the gaming floor

Smoking patio at Ameristar Black Hawk off the gaming floor


photo of the Smoking patio at Hollywood Columbus casino

Smoking patio at Hollywood Columbus

photo of Miami Valley Gaming smoking gaming patio

Smoking gaming patio at Miami Valley Gaming

photo of outdoor smoking patio at Belterra Park

Smoking patio at Belterra Park

Photo of smokefree Horseshoe Baltimore casino smoking gaming patio

Smoking gaming patio at Horseshoe Baltimore



Local, state, and Tribal smokefree laws not only help operators achieve a healthier workforce, but also move toward regulatory parity on the smoking issue. For example, all the gaming properties in Ohio and Maryland are smokefree indoors, and many of them compete very successfully against both smokefree and non-smokefree casinos.  The sooner that neighboring jurisdictions also enact smokefree laws, the sooner the industry can be done with deadly indoor secondhand smoke and move on to other concerns. Gaming companies should consider supporting strong smokefree indoor air laws to respond to growing consumer demand and ensure a level playing field with competitors across regional markets.

Going forward, clear policy guidance on parameters for outdoor smoking patios will help casino operators have parity on this issue vs creating an arms race to create the smokiest outdoor smoking patio possible.

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