Health advocates and gambling executives vented Thursday about a bill repealing an exemption held by casinos from the statewide indoor smoking cigarettes ban.

Kansas lawmakers two years ago adopted a sweeping prohibition on smoking cigarettes inside buildings accessible to the public that specifically exempted state-operated casinos opened in Dodge City, Mulvane and Kansas City, Kan.

Favoritism shown these new gambling venues has been ridiculed as unfair by owners of other businesses, but also touted as a necessity if the casinos are to be economically competitive. The statute allows smoking cigarettes on casino floors, but prohibits consumption of cheap cigarette online products in restaurants and other casino areas.

Apprehension exists that the Statehouse review of this exception could open up messy debate on a wide range of gambling and buy cigarette online policies.

James Gardner, a Manhattan physician and chairman of the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition, told the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee the casino properties provided revenue for the state, recreation for customers and jobs for workers.

"How ironic that the secondhand smoke cigarettes in these facilities starts an illness process leading to illness, increased medical costs and death," Gardner said.

Richard Klemp, spokesman for the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, said Peninsula Gaming entered into a binding agreement with the state of Kansas to develop a casino in Sumner County. The company plans to invest $314 million, based on established state law and rules adopted by Kansas regulators.

"To change the access to smoking cigarettes at this time would be simply unfair," he said.

He said the air-handling system in Peninsula's temporary casino swaps air eight times each hour. The permanent casino's capacity to deliver fresh air will be superior, he said.

"Allowing smoking cigarettes on the casino floor is a material factor in revenue performance to the Kansas Lottery, who owns and operates all of the gambling games at the Kansas Star," Klemp said.

Twenty-seven percent of gaming revenue from these casinos is distributed to the state government or local units of government. A smoking cigarettes ban, he said, could reduce overall revenue as much as 30 percent.

Christopher Masoner, representing the American Cancer Society, said the statewide smoking cigarettes ban was enthusiastically supported by a majority of Kansans.

The ban hasn't damaged commerce in the state as predicted by opponents of the smoking cigarettes ban, Masoner said.

Masoner also said some advocates for House Bill 2340, which strips out the casino exemption, might use the debate as a platform to undermine the statewide smoking cigarettes ban.

"While we unequivocally support expanding smoke-free policies to protect employees and patrons at casinos and other venues," Masoner said, "we do so with the knowledge and understanding that some proponents have been staunch opponents of smoke-free policies and might seek to exploit any opportunity to weaken the act."

The Senate committee took no action on the legislation.

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