Soulard Bar Owner Has a Novel Plan to Fight Smoking Ban — His Gaming License

click to enlarge The Bastille, a gay bar in Soulard, may challenge the smoking ban. - RFT File Photo
RFT File Photo
The Bastille, a gay bar in Soulard, may challenge the smoking ban.

Bob Hiscox, owner of the Bastille bar in Soulard, is no stranger to fighting the powers that be. A few years go, the city's historic preservation committee set out to stop him from installing solar panels on his roof, as they supposedly weren't in keeping with the neighborhood's historic character. Hiscox represented himself at the hearing — and won. 

Now Hiscox is revving up to challenge the city's smoking ban. And he has a novel legal theory that just might work. 

The city's ban, which is set to go into effect at midnight on January 1, forbids smoking from all bars, with exceptions for two entities: the private Missouri Athletic Club, and casinos (there's only one casino within city limits, but the ban also exempts any future ones to be built). 

See also: Special Treatment for Casinos, Athletic Club Irks St. Louis Bars Going Smoke-Free

But the language in the bill refers not to casinos, but "casino gaming areas" — "the area of a state-licensed gambling facility where gaming is allowed." Hiscox is convinced his bar qualifies.

That's because the Bastille, like 98 other St. Louis bars, participates in the Missouri Lottery's keno program. Doing so means getting a state license — one that requires a $50,000 bond and a $50 annual fee. The lion's share of proceeds from keno games are then remitted to the state lottery.

That, Hiscox says, makes the Bastille a gaming establishment. And that means he too gets an exception.

Come January 1, city health inspectors may ticket him for allowing smoking, he says. But he's ready.

"I'm not hiring lawyers," he says. "I'll represent myself again. And I will win."

When the city signed off on a smoking ban six years ago, January 2016 surely seemed a long way away. But with the day of reckoning now close at hand, the exceptions that may have seemed like a speedy compromise back in 2010 now seem likely to create major headaches, at a minimum. Bars are livid that St. Louis County will still allow smoking within its smaller bars. They're also livid that the ban isn't universal — if the athletic club and the casino get a pass, they question, why not them?

It's not just Hiscox. Bill Hannegan, president of Keep St. Louis Free, has been coordinating with a group of bars that aims to mount a similar a legal challenge. They've raised enough money to hire a lawyer. 

"We are still hoping the City will accommodate small bars like they did the Missouri Athletic Club by delaying imposition until the casino exemption is over, but we have raised enough money and we are moving ahead," Hannegan tells the RFT. 

Hiscox plans to be a bit more passive. Rather than file a suit now, he says he'll keep the ashtrays out, in essence daring the city to cite him. 

He's not even sure they'll get around to it. "All kidding aside, the city health department has 2,600 accounts and 12 inspectors," he says. "There's no way they can get to everybody."

Hiscox is not himself a smoker. (Raised Mormon, he doesn't even drink.) But the unfairness rankles him. 

"You want all the casinos to smoke, but not anybody else? That's not right," he says. 

He adds, "I just want my people to not have to go outside to smoke and freeze their asses off!"

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About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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