Why shouldn’t we exempt MGM from the Clean Indoor Air Act?

At 9:30 AM on Wednesday, January 23, the Prince George’s County Zoning Hearing Examiner is having a hearing to determine whether or not the Zoning Examiner will recommend to the County Council that the MGM National Harbor should be allowed an exemption from state law that forbids smoking in casinos. Why should they be given an exemption?

MGM is going to argue that they qualify for the exemption because they’re going to carve out space in the casino – arguably some of the most value floor space in the state – for a “cigar lounge.” In the real world, a “cigar lounge” is a place where cigar smoking people, mostly men, go to buy and smoke high-end cigars – and drink liquor subject to proper licensing. Patrons are allowed to smoke – cigars and cigarettes – as long as no more than 49% of the floor space at the cigar lounge is devoted to “incidental uses” such as serving food and beverages.  (See the screenshot below of section 202.1 of the PG County Code,)

1. On the face of it, the law is ridiculous in that no use that takes up 49% of a business’ floor space is “incidental.” A vending machine that sells bags of chips or cans of soda? That’s incidental, but not an activity or activities that take up almost half of the floor space.

2. If the MGM National Harbor were seriously interested in going into the cigar lounge business, the primary purpose of which is selling cigars, they wouldn’t be locating their “retail tobacco store,” as they prefer to call it for obvious reasons, on their retail concourse so close to the entrance to the gaming floor.

But then selling cigars isn’t the point, is it?  Of course not.  The cigars are what’s incidental here.  The purpose of the cigar lounge is to facilitate gambling.  MGM management would open a Lego store if they thought it would keep people on or near the gaming tables and slot machines for longer.  Allowing smoking inside the MGM casino/mall may make good business sense for MGM, but it’s not legal for even better reasons related to public health.  The Clean Indoor Air Act is a law, not a suggestion, recommendation or guideline.

MGM wants the County to grant it an exemption to the Maryland “Clean Indoor Air Act” (Subtitle 5, Sections 24-501 through 511for no other purpose but to accommodate some of their customers who like to smoke while they’re gambling, but can’t, not without the exemption that is.

No question about it, it’s all about the gambling. There’s nothing incidental about it. They didn’t spend $1.4 billion on the MGM National Harbor casino complex to sell cigars, now did they?

3. State law expressly allows the counties to be more restrictive than the state law prohibiting smoking, not less restrictive. (See the screenshot of Maryland code Section 24-510 below)  In other words, the County doesn’t have the authority to circumvent the state and allow smoking in the casino.

 

4. The precedent if the exemption is granted will be awful. Because every restaurant and bar in the County and everywhere else in Maryland will want the same exemption – and the state’s ban against smoking in commercial facilities will be moot.

Oh, and one other thing…

5. Trashing the state’s non-smoking law is not a one-off incident. Hardly. It’s a pattern of behavior which includes faulty wiring, insufficiently cured structural concrete, reconfiguring the gaming floor in favor of table games that are taxed at only 20% versus slot machines that are taxed at 60% and several highly problematic elements of the “Community Benefit Agreement” executed between MGM and the previous, Rush Baker government.  (See the footnote at the bottom of the article.)

The point is, the MGM National Harbor is used to getting its way in Prince George’s County, regardless of whether that way is in the best interests of the County’s residents and guests.

What to do, what to do?

If any of this bothers you, here’s what you can do…

Show up at the hearing on January 23rd and voice or at least show your concerns by being there.

Email us to volunteer as plaintiffs when our attorneys file a class action suit to stop the MGM phony-baloney cigar lounge.

And/or just leave a comment below.

Any or all of those options would be fine. But, whatever you do, don’t do nothing about it. Because, if you don’t do anything, you’ll have no right to complain and will be sending MGM the message that Prince George’s is their county, not yours.

 

Footnote… 

As part of the original approval process, MGM executed a “Community Benefit Agreement” with the Baker administration that made promises of minority contracting and hiring. Unfortunately, that same Agreement left it to MGM itself to attest to its compliance with those commitments – with non-disclosure language to protect the details of compliance from public view. Rush Baker may have trusted MGM for whatever reasons, but was that trust justified?

Did MGM ever take $100,000,000 from what the Agreement called “Project Investors”? And, if they did, who were these people and how were they related to County government? Years later, we still have no idea.

In fact, there’s a serious question as to whether or not the non-disclosure language of the Community Benefits Agreement, as written to protect MGM from public scrutiny, is even legal given that federal, state and county funds were used for the development of the MGM National Harbor complex. Under the circumstances, can Prince George’s County government agree not to disclose its business with MGM?

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