SD smoking ban may leave tribal casinos untouched

Mar 6, 2009 10:35 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

A ban on smoking in South Dakota bars, video lottery businesses and Deadwood gaming halls probably wouldn't affect tribal casinos, Attorney General Larry Long said.

Unless a tribe negotiated smoking restrictions in its gaming compact with the state, South Dakota criminal laws wouldn't apply in Indian Country, Long said Friday.

"I would say if smoking is going on in the tribal casinos now, that won't change if the ban becomes law," Long said.

He said he isn't aware of any compacts that include smoking restrictions.

The House is scheduled on Monday to decide whether to accept an amendment to the bill that bans smoking in nearly all public places. If House members agree to the change, the bill will be sent to Gov. Mike Rounds.

Rounds refused to indicate Thursday whether he'd sign the measure. He said he doesn't like smoking but that he won't make a decision on the specific bill until he reads it.

Since 2002, smoking has been outlawed in many public places. When lawmakers passed the current ban that year, they exempted bars, Deadwood casinos and video lottery businesses. The current proposed law would close those loopholes.

Opponents argued this session that state revenue from video lottery and gambling will fall if smoking is banned in those establishments. They also said the move could drive some gamblers and smokers to Indian reservation casinos where the law would have no effect.

An American Cancer Society lobbyist who was instrumental in the success of the smoking ban this year said her group didn't expect the restrictions to reach into tribal casinos.

The existing smoking laws don't apply in Indian Country, Jennifer Stalley said.

"It's just like any other law the Legislature passed, unless there were some negotiated agreement," Stalley said.

She discounted the idea that gamblers would travel great distances to reach a casino that allowed smoking. "The argument also makes the assumption that all gamblers are smokers," Stalley said. "We don't think that's true."

Long said the legal issue involves the definition of Indian Country.

"Within Indian Country, generally the criminal statutes of the state of South Dakota have no application," he said.

Bennett County has a mix of state or private land and land that is identified as Indian Country, he said.

"If you operate some type of establishment in Bennett County in an area that is Indian Country, probably the smoking ban has no application," Long said.

All of Shannon Country is Indian Country, he said. "Generally, within Shannon County, there'd be no application."