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11/8/2017 6:13:00 PM
Majestic Star attempts to snuff out Gary bid for smoking ban expansion
The Majestic Star casino opposes the potential expansion of the state's smoking ban. (Carole Carlson / Post-Tribune)
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The Majestic Star casino opposes the potential expansion of the state's smoking ban. (Carole Carlson / Post-Tribune)

Gregory Tejeda, Post-Tribune Freelance Reporter

Critics wasted no time in letting the Gary Common Council know that the state's smoking ban should not be expanded to include the Majestic Star Casino.

Pete Liguori, the CEO and president of the Majestic Star casino, appeared Tuesday before the Common Council to argue that enacting a local law that is stronger than the state's prohibiting smoking by people gambling at the casino would only drive people to casinos in Hammond and East Chicago.

Council members had little to say Tuesday about the issue, which is the subject of an ordinance that was formally introduced before the council last month, and on Tuesday was formally assigned to the council's Finance Committee.

If the ban is expanded to include the casino, Liguori said, effects of the law would drive down the share of tax revenues that the Majestic Star provides to Gary. He said that could be as much as a $3 million loss for Gary annually.

In 2012, the state enacted a statewide smoking ban. Entities exempted from the law include membership clubs, bars and taverns, retail tobacco shops, cigar bars, hookah bars, licensed horse track facilities, and gaming facilities, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Smoking is also banned in Illinois casinos.

Local municipalities are allowed to expand the scope of the law, the Department of Health website said.

Liguori said it also would result in significant loss of employment if a new smoking ban would result in lost customers and profit. About a third of the casino's 1,000 employees reside in Gary.

Several employees talked of how badly they need their jobs and how they believe they would lose them if smoking restrictions were enacted.

"It's the only place that gave me an opportunity to work," Yvette Kimbrough, a Gary resident and 21-year employee at the casino, said.

Liguori said it is important to hear those concerns because they show "the intertwined policies and economic realities that exist," adding he believes the Indiana Legislature handled the issue adequately when it enacted smoking restrictions, but exempted casino properties.

Not everyone at the meeting agreed with Liguori. More than a dozen people wore T-shirts reading "Every Worker Deserves the Right to Breathe Smoke-Free Air."

No action was taken on the measure, other than a hearing being scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 20 at City Hall. A public hearing on the issue also was scheduled for Nov. 21, indicating the full Common Council could be prepared to take a final vote on the issue at that time.

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