CINCINNATI (AP) — Smokers won't be hired at new casinos in Columbus and Toledo, a ban that's been adopted in other industries as employers try to hold down health care costs.
Job applicants for 3,200 positions at the two casinos being developed by Penn National Gaming Inc. will not be considered if they smoke, chew tobacco or use nicotine patches, according to the company.
Applicants will be screened, and any testing positive for nicotine will be disqualified. Random nicotine testing will be done on workers after they are employed, but the policy on that phase is still being developed, Bob Tenenbaum, Penn National's Ohio spokesman, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Ohio state law prohibits any smoking in public places, including casinos, but Penn National's policy will mean its Ohio casino workers will not be allowed to use tobacco on or off the job.
The change comes in an industry that has many smokers among its customers, and Ohio casinos will be the only two of Penn's 21 properties that ban tobacco use among employees, Ameet Patel, general manager of Penn National's Hollywood Casino Columbus, told The Dayton Daily News, which first reported the policy.
Tenenbaum said he was not certain whether any other of the company's facilities might consider such a policy.
"Since the casinos are going to be smoke-free anyway, this made sense as something to do in Ohio," he said.
Given the state smoking ban and the company's increasing focus on employee health, this was seen as an opportunity to help employees improve their health, help the company lower its health care costs, "and increase productivity," Tenenbaum said.
American Gaming Association spokeswoman Holly Wetzel said that she did not know whether any other casinos have a ban on hiring smokers or are considering such a policy.
Rock Gaming is developing casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati in partnership with Caesars Entertainment Corp. and says none of the 3,300 workers to be hired will be prevented from using tobacco. Dealers are being trained in Cleveland and there has been drug testing, but there will be no nicotine screening, Rock Gaming spokeswoman Jennifer Kulczycki said Thursday.
Kulczycki says Caesars will operate the casinos with the goal of encouraging employees to quit by offering cash incentives to them and their dependents.
"We are going toward the reward route, as opposed to eliminating candidates," she said.
Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, believes bans on hiring smokers are misguided.
"Roughly 20 percent of Americans smoke, and other than the fact that they smoke, they are no different than the rest of us," Maltby said Thursday.
He says 29 states have passed laws making it illegal to refuse to hire smokers, and not hiring smokers may cost companies more in the long run.
"You can't cut 20 percent of the population out of your candidate pool without losing the best candidate once in a while," Maltby said. "Our concern is that employers shouldn't be telling employees what to do in their own homes."
Rock Gaming isn't worried that gamblers will avoid Ohio casinos because of the state ban. Its casinos are in downtown Cincinnati and Cleveland where there are additional attractions, and "there will be benefits for smokers and non-smokers," Kulczycki said.
Nearby Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia do not have statewide smoking bans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 19.3 percent of American adults and about 22 percent of Ohio adults smoke cigarettes. The agency considers smoking the leading cause of preventable death in America.