Smoking ban compromise would allow some smoking

March 25, 2008 6:03:04 PM PDT
Smoking would be banned on the floor of Atlantic City casinos, but permitted inside enclosed smoking lounges under a compromise proposal to be introduced by the City Council Wednesday night. Last week, several councilmen said they would try again to enact a total smoking ban inside Atlantic City's 11 casinos. The council backed off such a proposal last year in the face of vehement opposition from the gambling halls, and restricted smoking to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor.

In order for latest the measure to get enough votes to pass, a provision was added Tuesday to enable the casinos to set up enclosed smoking lounges were patrons would be able to smoke, although not gamble. No employees would be inside the lounges, Councilman Bruce Ward said.

Under a law that took effect last April 15, 2007, the casinos had to set aside at least 75 percent of the casino floor as nonsmoking areas. The law called for them to build walled-off enclosures with separate ventilation systems, but set no deadline for the work to begin.

Unlike last year's law, the new proposal would ban gambling in the smoking lounges. That would fulfill the council's desire to have a totally smoke-free casino floor.

"It's time to move forward with this issue," Ward said. "The casinos have had an opportunity to build enclosures, but they don't want to do it."

The smoking ban would take effect 90 days after the law is passed and signed into law by the mayor.

Casinos have been reluctant to spend the millions of dollars that separate smoking sections for gamblers would cost, particularly since many believe a state or federal law will ultimately be passed requiring all casinos to be smoke-free.

They have been even less willing to spend the money in the midst of an economic slowdown that saw the Atlantic City casinos' revenue fall last year for the first time in the 30-year history of legalized gambling here.