Agua Caliente Palm Springs Returns Smoking Onto Gaming Floor. Why?

Written By TJ McBride on October 19, 2023
A photo of a patron lighting a cigarette on a story about a Agua Caliente Palm Springs Casino reintroducing smoking on its floor.

A new wave of casinos going smoke-free has been sweeping California tribal casinos over the last few years. One gaming establishment, however, has reversed its ban and will once again allow smoking on its gaming floor.

Agua Caliente Palm Springs Casino now allows smoking as it did three years ago. There are some stipulations to the reintroduction of smoking, but patrons can now light up on the gaming floor as they used to.

As expected, this decision has led to ire from some and applause from others.

Where in Agua Caliente can patrons smoke?

While California has banned smoking in indoor spaces since 1998, tribes are sovereign nations which can make their own rules and regulations. That is why casinos in California – which are all tribal casinos – can decide for themselves.

Even with the ability to include smoking in its casinos, most tribal casinos have elected to ban it entirely. But after “a substantial number of requests,” according to the Desert Sun, Agua Caliente elected to bring smoking back at one of its three casinos: Agua Caliente Palm Springs. Its other two locations – Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage – will continue banning smoking, like the majority of Southern California casinos.

Smoking may have returned to the Palm Springs location, but there are new rules that came with it. Patrons can smoke on the gaming floor and while playing slots. It is not allowed while playing table games, in restaurants and dining spaces, at the sports bar, or in the Cascade Lounge. Cigarettes and vaping are allowed in those specific spaces, but pipe and cigar smoking is still banned.

From the point of view of Agua Caliente, opening up one of its three establishments to a smoking clientele while keeping its other two locations smoke-free felt like a good compromise. That has not been the view of some of its patrons, though.

Reintroducing smoking has been polarizing

For those who enjoy smoking while wagering, this is a win. But for workers and non-smokers, this decision feels short-sighted and a slap in the face.

Some regular guests have taken to social media to try and get more people to complain about the switch. One of those is Palm Springs resident Tim Sigle, who told the Desert Sun that he thought the decision was “ridiculous.”

“It’s kind of ridiculous that they think it would bring in more players or more money. I don’t see how. I used to go in at least once a week to the Palm Springs one … but I’d rather drive all the way out to Fantasy Springs than deal with the cigarette smoke.”

Sigle went on to point out how potentially unfair this is for the employees of the casino, who now have to endure second-hand smoke throughout their shifts.

“Their health should matter. You’re putting them in there for their eight-hour shifts right in all that cigarette smoke. I think that’s cruel.”

According to another guest, John Mannion, some employees found out that smoking would be allowed once again on the day it was introduced without any heads up.

Smoking in California has never been less popular, according to the California Department of Public Health. Just 6.2% of adults currently smoke. The agency said 4.3% of adults in the state vape. With such a small percentage of the population still smoking, Sigle wonders why that group is being catered to by Agua Caliente Palm Springs.

“They’re thinking like they’re in Las Vegas or something and they’re not. In California, there are less smokers than ever before. Why would you try to cater to a minimum amount of people?”

The introduction or banning of smoking at casinos will always be polarizing. For many who smoke, casinos are the last bastion to enjoy a smoke while playing a favorite game. For others, it is a reason to never frequent that casino again.

Photo by Wayne Parry/AP
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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He covers the gaming landscape across multiple states in addition to his main beat covering the NBA's Denver Nuggets. His NBA work can be found at several major media outlets including ESPN, FiveThirtyEight and Bleacher Report.

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