EVANSVILLE —Evansville City Council passed a smoking ban Monday that includes all bars but exempts the Casino Aztar gaming floor.
The smoking ban is scheduled to start April 1. It was an augmented version of a proposal introduced to city council Jan. 23. Monday night, the majority of council members felt that including Aztar would put the city’s finances in an adverse position.
Council voted 7 to 2 Monday with Second Ward Councilwoman Missy Mosby and At Large Councilman Jonathan Weaver voting against the ban.
The majority vote for the ban came after about three hours of public comment during the Evansville Public Works Committee meeting, which took place before the actual city council meeting Most of the comments came from smoke free advocates. Several Aztar employees also spoke in favor of the exemption. Some bar owners pleaded against the ban, saying they will be forced to close under a smoking ban.
Mosby began the committee meeting by introducing a motion to table the smoking ordinance until a proposed state law could make some progress. City Council attorney John Hamilton said a clause in the proposed state code only would allow its municipal version to be tougher. Mosby’s motion failed after it was met with opposition from At Large councilmen Conor O’Daniel and H. Dan Adams.
The committee then heard at least 40 opinions from the audience. Smoke free advocates cited statistics and others told stories of losing family to smoking. The next largest group was made up of Aztar employees, which included General Manager Ward Shaw.
Fifth Ward councilman John Friend asked Shaw how instant win gaming in Ellis Park, which is in Kentucky, would affect Aztar. He replied by saying gaming there should be increased in the first quarter and they will allow smoking.
“That will be a challenge for us,” Shaw said, later adding, “We’re just asking for a level playing field.”
Shaw summarized a presentation he gave to council members last month, predicting a 30 percent decline in revenue and a loss of 280 jobs. His remarks were followed by a line of casino supporters all wearing bright red T-shirts pleading with council that exempting the gaming facility would save their jobs. All of the casino employees mentioned they were speaking for themselves.
A handful of bar owners also pleaded with council to consider their loss of business. They told council that because their watering holes only allow those who are over age 21, they should not face the ban.
“They are adults and do not need government making decision for them,” said Steve Alsop, owner of Peephole Bar & Grill.
Adams made a motion during the Public Works Committee to exempt the casino gaming floor from the amendment. It passed with a 8 to 1 vote, with Third Ward Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley voting in dissent.
Mosby has repeatedly said business owners in her ward said they would be forced to close if the ban passed.
Council then passed the ban at its regular meeting.
The smoking ban is similar to one passed last year by Vanderburgh County Commission. The ban is an amendment to an ordinance passed in 2006 and is about two years in the making. Council left the proposed ban at a deadlock in March 2010 after discussion of whether to exempt Aztar.