Casino smoking ban?

April 9, 2008 9:00:50 PM PDT
Smoking would be banned on the gambling floor of all 11 of the city's casinos under a measure introduced Wednesday night, but smokers would still be able to light up in smoking lounges away from the tables and slot machines. The City Council introduced an ordinance extending a partial smoking ban it approved last spring to the entire casino floor. It's up for a final vote in two weeks and would take effect Oct. 15.

More than a year after the city tried and failed to ban all smoking in casinos, the issue still smolders in the community.

Casino workers packed City Hall to support the ban, many holding "no smoking" signs, and the fire marshal ordered 21 people to leave the overcrowded room before allowing the meeting to continue.

"How many people have to get sick and die in order for you to make this 100 percent?" asked Paula Cifelli, a dealer at Caesars Atlantic City. "I've seen 8-month-pregnant women and people just coming back from leave after having cancer being forced to work in smoking areas. I'm curious to know how much a life is worth these days?"

Elizabeth Nydegger, a dealer at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino for 18 years, said she can't stand breathing second-hand smoke, and is afraid what it is doing to her health.

"I think it's time we came into the 21st century and joined most of the rest of the world, which prohibits smoking in casinos," she said. "It's horrible; I work 18 to 20 inches from cigarettes.

But smokers have protested the proposed ban.

A half-dozen smoking patrons at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort this week said they would stop coming to Atlantic City if smoking were banned, and were quick to note that slots parlors in neighboring states allow smoking.

Councilman Eugene Robinson said the main purpose of casino gambling in Atlantic City was "economic redevelopment."

"I don't know how we're developing people when we're killing them at the same time," he said.

Robinson also rejected concerns from the casino industry that a smoking ban would hurt business.

"People supported slavery when they thought it was economically viable," he said.

Not everyone supported the ban, though.

"Nobody put a gun to your head and said you have to be in there," resident Ronald Harris said. "Why should you have to get up off the casino when you're winning? If you want to sit there to gamble, relax and enjoy a cigarette, you do what you got to do."

A proposed total smoking ban last year crumbled under strong opposition from the casinos, which claimed the measure could cost them 20 percent of their revenue and mean the loss of as many as 3,400 jobs.

A compromise law was enacted in April 2007, restricting smoking to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor. The law required the casinos to build walled-off, ventilated smoking areas, but gave no deadline for the work to be done. Nearly a year later none have been built.

The American Heart Association says tobacco smoke is a contributor to nearly 1,000 deaths each day in the United States. Ventilation systems are not enough to protect people from secondhand smoke, the group said.

The new law does not mandate that casinos build smoking lounges; they have the option to decide whether to do so.