By LINDA COMINS
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — Smoking can continue in specified areas at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and in limited video lottery rooms, now that the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health has declined to change the county’s clear air regulation.
Dr. John Holloway, board chairman, said that after the board discussed the issue during an Oct. 10 special meeting, he spoke individually to each board member and asked whether they wanted to retain the existing exemption or make changes to the regulation. He said the other members were against making changes and favored keeping the current regulation in place.
Holloway noted that as chairman, he cannot make motions. When none of the other five members offered a motion, he said, “This basically brings to an end, at least for now, any efforts to change the regulations.”
He added later, “No action was taken. No one was in favor of making the change at this point, so there was no vote.”
After the meeting, Kim Florence, president and general manager of Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, indicated she was pleased with the board’s decision.
“We certainly are looking (out) for the economic impact of the casino and the employees that could be impacted,” she said.
During the Oct. 10 hearing, Florence told the board a smoking ban could cost the facility a projected $17.5 million in annual revenue, based on losses experienced at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort after smoking restrictions were imposed in Hancock County in 2015.
Speaking in favor of the county going smoke-free, health officer Dr. William Mercer said Tuesday, “This has been done in other communities successfully.”
As health officer, Mercer said it is difficult to explain a non-medical exemption for some entities when other businesses are expected to abide by the clean indoor air regulation.
Wheeling Councilman Chad Thalman, who represents the city on the health board, said he would be willing to consider, at some point, a measure to “grandfather in” the exemption for the casino and existing LVL parlors, but ban smoking at any new venues.
Holloway, a practicing physician, said, “This (smoking and secondhand smoke) is as troubling an issue as any issue that I’ve faced on any voluntary boards on which I’ve served. It’s troubling for me.”
As chairman, he said, “For better or for worse, I have to take some responsibility that changes have not occurred.”
Holloway said, “Everything in Ohio County is 98-percent smoke-free, but it is not all smoke-free. We are becoming one of a minority of West Virginia counties that are not smoke-free. It’s tough to acknowledge.”
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