WHEELING - Dr. William Mercer hopes Pennsylvania lawmakers will follow Ohio's lead in banning smoking at its gambling casinos.
If they did, he believes it would help the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health gain support for its tabled plans to prohibit smoking at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and smaller gambling parlors.
Mercer, the health officer, informed the board during a regular meeting Tuesday about Ohio's four new casinos being smoke-free. He noted two of those casinos - the Hollywood casinos in Toledo and Columbus - are not going to hire people who smoke. Ohio already has a law in place that forbids smoking in buildings. According to the Hollywood Casinos website, the casinos will test workers for drug and nicotine use.
David Hough deals poker at the Hollywood Casino in Toledo, Ohio, Monday. The new casino set to open Tuesday not only won’t allow smoking in the building but also is not hiring smokers.
"Pennsylvania does have an exemption, but there is a Sen. (Stewart) Greenleaf who is spearheading trying to take all the exemptions away," Mercer said. "I've been in communication with their office. If they ever did it, it would make it easier for us."
He added there are new developments in West Virginia as well.
"Morgantown was a holdout, but the whole (Monongalia) county went smoke-free. Ironically it was the City Council who passed it because they got tired of waiting for the health department. Then finally the health department did it," Mercer said.
Mercer noted Atlantic City's newest casino, Revel, is a non-smoking, $2.4 billion facility.
The Ohio County Board of Health last year explored expanding its smoking ban, but decided to table the matter after members said they did not have enough public support for the measure. The current regulation bans smoking indoors except for video gambling parlors, video gambling areas inside bars and the video gambling areas at the casino.
In other business, the board approved the health department's $1.564 million budget for fiscal 2013 that includes a 1 percent pay increase for employees. It also includes a $10,000 capital expenditure for two new copiers. The department's largest sources of revenue include $369,500 from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and $160,000 in fees charged for permits and environmental services. The department's biggest expenditures include $362,348 for personnel and $147,169 for benefits such as health insurance and retirement.
As part of its overall budget there is $936,907 in funding for four different Northern Panhandle programs: $729,377 for Women, Infants and Children's; $67,530, Threat Preparedness; $75,000, Regional Epidemiology; and $65,000, Cancer Information Specialist.
Department head salaries include $54,570 for Administrator Howard Gamble; $34,248 for Mercer; and $45,190 for Nursing Director Becky Beckett.
Meanwhile, the board also received an update on the number of natural gas drilling sites - active, permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection and those under application to be permitted by the DEP - in Ohio County. As of April 16, there were 47 total sites, according to a map provided to the department by the county commission. Of the 47 total, 41 are active well sites.