Iowa House rejects adding casinos to smoking ban

DES MOINES, Iowa— The Iowa House on Tuesday rejected efforts to include casinos in the state’s three-year-old ban on indoor tobacco in Casinosmoking.

Rep. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, sought to include the expansion of the smoking ban in a larger gambling bill, but the House rejected her effort with little debate.

When the Legislature approved the sweeping ban on indoor smoking, it exempted casinos from the restriction. Gambling forces argued banning smoking would send Iowa gamblers to other states.

“When we passed the smoke-free act of 2008, one class of people was left out,” Petersen said. “That’s people who work in casinos.”

Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, said lawmakers had carefully bargained a measure dealing with the state’s gambling laws, and injecting the smoking issue would complicate that effort.

After rejecting Petersen’s proposal, the House gave the larger measure final legislative approval on a 72-21 vote.

The measure lets casinos hold county referendums on gaming just twice if approved initially and again eight years later. Current law requires a referendum every eight years. It also calls for a study on legalizing Internet poker. Petersen would have required that casinos be smoke-free before they could escape the referendum requirement.

Casino operators argue that two elections allowing them to retain licenses shows that voters have accepted casinos, and they shouldn’t be forced to spend heavily on campaigns to retain their licenses.

The measure does allow a petition process, where 10 percent of the voters in the previous elctio0n can petition for a vote on the license.

It also calls for a study of the impact of legalizing Internet poker in the state, an issue that surfaced earlier in the session. Backers of that effort say it could generate $30 million a year for the state.

Crownie said a report of the study must be submitted to the legislature in December.

“The report will tell us how many Iowans are playing Internet poker,” Cownie said.

Gov. Terry Branstad has not taken a position on the issue and aides said he was studying it.

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