St. Joseph City Council denies public vote on smoking ban

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 6:53 p.m. CDT

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph City Council has snuffed out a proposal to put a city smoking ban up for a public vote.

After six months of debate, the council voted Tuesday to remove the proposal to ban smoking at some businesses from its agenda. The decision was made because of disagreements about allowing an exemption for the St. Jo Frontier Casino.

The proposal aimed to ban indoor smoking in public places, except for bars with fewer than 50 seats and the gambling floor of the casino. Larger bars could have allowed smoking in specially ventilated areas.

The council previously said it would consider putting the proposed ban on the Nov. 5 ballot, The St. Joseph News-Press reported.

Before the ordinance was read, Councilman Jeff Penland asked the rest of the council to let property owners decide whether to ban smoking at their establishments. He said the council should continue the discussion and perhaps provide incentives for bar owners to go smoke-free.

"I just can't vote for an issue that treats the casino different," he said, later adding that his decision was reinforced after casino manager Craig Travers spoke against a ban because it would reduce gambling revenue for the city, county and state.

Travers warned the council that if the casino was forced to ban smoking, the state would sell the parent company's license to a community that had no ban. He also said a smoking ban would decrease revenues by at least 25 percent and would halt all discussions of moving the casino to downtown St. Joseph.

"The whole purpose of gaming is to provide tax revenue to the state. ... This is not a health issue when it comes to the casino," he said. "It's a business issue."

Proponents of a smoking ban said they would continue their efforts. Mary Attebury, co-chairwoman of Clean Air St. Joe, said the council should follow the wishes of a majority of the community.

"Certainly we're disappointed that the council hasn't taken and considered the feedback that they received over these past months and done what they should have done," she said. "There will be a reaction from the community I'm sure. This is not over."

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