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Iowa Public Radio News | By Katie Peikes
Published July 22, 2020 at 2:23 PM CDT
The four Native American-owned casinos in Iowa are temporarily smoke-free after reopening with precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and one organization is asking them to make this change permanent.
Blackbird Bend Casino, Prairie Flower Casino, WinnaVegas Casino Resort and Meskwaki Bingo Casino reopened in June and July with a number of safeguards in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including no smoking indoors. Larry Wright Jr., the chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, which owns Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake, said they wanted to ensure peoples’ health and safety, plus they wanted all visitors and staff to wear masks.
“As we looked at it, it would be very difficult to enforce a 100 percent mask requirement when you have people in the casino smoking,” Wright said. “They would obviously need to remove their masks for that.”
Prairie Flower Casino reopened June 1 and has had a “temporary 100 percent smoke-free environment with no smoking or vaping allowed inside the casino” according to a May news release. Wright said there have been some visitors that didn’t agree with the policy, but by and large, people have understood and accepted it. The casino has a spot about 50 feet from the entrance where people can go smoke outside.
“And it’s been used,” Wright said. “I haven’t heard any complaints about that yet.”
Wright said the non-smoking policy will be in place for the foreseeable future. That’s the same thing with WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, which has had a smoke-free policy in place since reopening June 12. The casino also requires people to wear masks. Michael Michaud is the casino’s marketing director.
“We don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t tell you what the future holds,” Michaud said. “What we do see is the increase in the amount of testing and the positive cases around the country and we want to make sure that we’re taking care of our community members and our guests and our team members as much as we can.”
Like Prairie Flower Casino, Michaud said staff at WinnaVegas Casino Resort felt it would be “insufficient” if they provided masks, had a mandate to wear them and allowed people to smoke indoors. People can smoke outside, about 20 feet away from the entrances. Michaud said the casino has received a lot of positive feedback since going smoke-free, but surveys sent out to guests before the casino reopened revealed that 17 percent of the respondents said they wouldn’t come back because of the smoke-free policy.
“So we know that that segment of our guests still want to come back, they want to gamble and they want to smoke and they’re not going to come back until we have smoking available inside of the property,” Michaud said.
According to the American Lung Association’s list of businesses that allow indoor smoking but have been smoke-free since reopening, the four Native American casinos in Iowa are the only casinos in the state to do so.
Casinos are exempt from Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act, which prohibits smoking in “almost all public places and enclosed areas within places of employment,“ like restaurants, bars, theaters and offices. In a statement Tuesday, Kristina Hamilton, the advocacy director for the American Lung Association, applauded the four casinos for going smoke-free.
“This policy will protect the health of workers and customers from dangerous secondhand smoke and e-cigarette emissions, and we call for the permanent adoption of this policy,” Hamilton said in a statement.
Hamilton continued, “The American Lung Association will continue to advocate for strong smokefree laws and policies. We strongly urge other casinos to adopt a similar smokefree policy and follow the lead of Blackbird Bend, WinnaVegas, Meskwaki Bingo and Prairie Flower Casinos.”
Asked if a permanent ban is something they’d consider, Michaud and Wright both said that decision would be up to the tribes that own the casinos. Wright said Prairie Flower Casino and the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska are focused on what they’re dealing with in the present.
“For right now, this is temporary,” Wright said. “As far as doing it permanent, regardless, we want to make sure the environment that we have is conducive to everyone and we’ll take all the measures that we can to continue to do so.”
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REMINDER! DEADLINE JAN. 10th: Native Students Strongly Encouraged to Apply Now For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Directorate Fellows Program (DFP)
Directorate Fellows Program (DFP)
Application Deadline: January 10, 2020
Eligible students are encouraged to apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 2020 Directorate Fellows Program (DFP) announcement that is currently open through January 10, 2020. FWS is collaborating with the American Conservation Experience, Greening Youth Foundation, Hispanic Access Foundation and the Student Conservation Association conservation partner organizations this year to assist with recruitment, application, and administration of over 100 Fellowship project opportunities nationwide!
What is the Directorate Fellows Program (DFP)?
The Directorate Fellows Program (DFP) provides eligible students interested in conservation-related careers with full-time paid 11-week rigorous Fellowship opportunities working on projects that support FWS priorities. The 11-week fellowships begin in mid-May/mid-June 2020 and end in August/September 2020. Eligible students who are pursuing degrees in biological science and/or natural resources management will possess the desired qualifications for the 2020 DFP. These Fellowships offer a unique opportunity for the student to gain special direct-hire authority (upon successful completion of the program requirements). This authority enables FWS (and other land management agencies) to be able to hire former Fellows into permanent, full-time positions within two years of their graduation.
- Living allowance– paid bi-weekly
- Travel allowance
- Hands-on experience
- Housing provided in select locations
- 1-week Orientation at the FWS National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, WV
- Fellows may be eligible for a permanent position in the FWS after successfully completing their fellowship and degree
DFP Eligibility Requirements:
- Student must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a rising senior or senior in an undergraduate program or a graduate degree program, and will not complete their degree requirements prior to the completion of the 2020 DFP 11-week fellowship ending in August/September 2020Cumulative GPA must be 3.0 or higher
- US citizen or permanent resident
- Demonstrated interest, education, and/or experience in conservation
- Must be available for 12 weeks (1-week orientation plus 11-week fellowship)
- Must be able to pass a criminal background check
- Must be 17 years of age or older
- Males born after December 31, 1959, and are at least 18 years of age, must register with the Selective Service System, unless they meet certain exemptions
How to Apply:
Review the list of states that you are interested in working, and apply at the partner organization(s) that is accepting applications for the state(s) you select. Follow the application procedures on the partner websites. Each partner may use a slightly different process.
There is no limit on the number of DFP projects for which you may apply. If you are interested in project locations nationwide, we recommend that you apply to all of the partner sites so that you can be considered for the maximum project location opportunities. For example, if you are interested in projects located in Alaska, Florida, and Virginia, you will need to apply through all 3 organizations, since each location of interest is administered by a different partner. CLICK HERE for a complete list of all 2020 DFP projects by state.
Student Conservation Association – (SCA) CLICK HERE to apply for DFP projects located in any of the following states: Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington DC, and Wisconsin.
American Conservation Experience – (ACE) CLICK HERE to apply for DFP projects located in any of the following states: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Guam.
For questions on ACE application process, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greening Youth Foundation – (GYF) (CLICK HERE) to apply for DFP projects located in any of the following states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming.
For questions on GYF application process, contact Eboni Preston at email@example.com.
For other general questions on the DFP, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
NET’s ‘Nebraska Stories’ returns for a new season, debuting with an episode that features the unveiling of the Chief Standing Bear statue in the U.S. Capitol. Watch the episode on Thursday, January 16 at 8 p.m. on NET or your local Nebraska PBS station.
June 2019: Federal disaster declaration is approved for the Ponca Tribe:
June 2019: An editorial supporting the Standing Bear national historic trail:
June 2019: As trial proceedings begin in the death of Sydney Loofe, who was honored last year by the Ponca Tribe with a memorial bench in her name, the Set Me Free Project hopes to draw awareness to the dangers of online dating and sex trafficking.