by | Dec 13, 2009 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Let me get this straight. Smoking is bad for you, right? It’s bad if you smoke. It’s bad if someone smokes around you. It’s so bad that our state government, like others before it, is now passing a law against smoking in any public place – restaurant, office building, shopping mall, museum – any public place at all.

Except a casino.

Got that?

A casino that harbors gambling – which is also not good for you – is an OK place to smoke. Not in the casino restaurant, mind you. Not in the casino hotel. Not in what I’d call the “safe” parts of a casino. You can’t smoke there.

But on the gaming floor, where you can lose your weekly paycheck in 60 seconds -there it’s OK to light up.

I know. It’s like saying you can’t yell “fire!” except in a public theater. It makes no sense.

Unless you are a casino.

Because just as restaurants don’t want to lose business to other restaurants, casinos don’t want to lose business to other casinos. And right now, in Michigan – as in Minnesota, as in Connecticut, as in many other states – local casinos compete with American-Indian-owned casinos, which exist on tribal lands.

And are not covered by state laws.

So you have a casino in Detroit that has to do what the state tells it to do. And you have a casino in Mt. Pleasant that doesn’t. And you know what that leads to?

Smoke ’em if you got ’em. Different places, different countries?

Now, let’s not debate the whole Native American question here. There is no doubt what the states and the federal government have granted to Indian lands is small compensation for the wrongs done to them in the past. But there are times where we’re either a state or we aren’t.

It seems to me if a state decides for the health of its citizens that a law needs to be changed, there should be compliance from all sectors. Otherwise you’re not really living in a state, are you? You’re living in two different countries.

Everyone agrees the Indian casinos would likely not comply with the no-smoking ban – not because of an ancient reverence for tobacco. They wouldn’t comply because they don’t have to. And they could make more money by refusing.

Hey. In the competitive world of casinos, who wouldn’t want to be the only place where you can still smoke and gamble at the same time?

All this has led to a crazy inequity in the law. Detroit casinos will be allowed smoking because otherwise they would lose business to their competitors. But if that’s a good enough reason, what about bars? Couldn’t they claim they are losing business to non-smoking restaurants, because people who had been coming to their bars to puff and drink will just go to a restaurant to drink? Couldn’t movie theaters say they’re losing business to Best Buy, because smokers will now buy movies to watch – while smoking – at home? Whose rights rule the day?

The law itself can be defended. Oh, I know critics say, “The government is too intrusive. Lawmakers should stop telling us what’s good for us.” And that sounds strong.

But if it were true, we might as well remove all speed limits. That’s government, too. Should we just trust that people won’t speed and eventually kill somebody?

There is no debate over the dangers of smoking or secondhand smoke. This isn’t global warming. And the state isn’t outlawing smoking altogether. It’s saying nonsmokers are entitled to clear air more than smokers are entitled to cloud it up. I don’t think that’s as awful as some say.

But when you make a ridiculous exception because of a duality in your state, there is reason to complain. Can’t smoke after dinner in a restaurant, or while sitting at the bar, but you can puff away at a blackjack table?

What’s funny is that many people worried about the vice of gambling when casinos were first voted in.

And now they’re the only place where you can do two particular vices at a time.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of his latest best seller, “Have a Little Faith,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Borders in Grosse Pointe, 7:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble in Franklin Park in Toledo, 11 a.m. Saturday at Sam’s Club in Southgate, 2 p.m. Saturday at Borders Express in Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at Borders in Birmingham and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 at Borders in Utica. Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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