October 20, 2009 - A year after the nation's second-largest gambling resort scrapped a plan to go totally smoke-free in its 11 casinos, the issue remains as hazy as the cigarette smoke over the blackjack tables. Atlantic City was set to ban all smoking last October, 2008 but backed off when the recession hit, promising to reconsider in a year. But there's still no consensus on whether to stick with the current arrangement, which permits smoking on 25 percent of the casino floor, or to try again for a total ban. (Atlantic City reconsiders casino smoking ban by The Associated Press, 9/29/2009)
The City Council backed away from a ban last year amid warnings that smokers would take their business elsewhere, further depressing casino earnings in the soft economy. Just as it was on October 8, 2008 - when it voted 5-4 to scrap the smoking ban - council remains divided.
The timing of a new vote is unclear. On Friday, October 16th the City Clerk's Office released the agenda for the next council meeting on Wednesday and it did not include the smoking ban.
Councilman Dennis Mason argued it would be foolish to prohibit smoking in Atlantic City at a time when cigarette-puffing, cigar-chomping gamblers crowd casinos in other states. "I'll be happy to support a 100 percent smoking ban if and when casinos in other states enact the same thing," he said. "All we want to be on is equal footing."
Mason supports the current law, which limits smoking to 25 percent of the casino floor. But Councilman Bruce Ward, an anti-smoking advocate, believes a total ban is the best way to protect casino workers and customers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. "I'd like to see no smoke impacting the health of workers, or customers for that matter," he said.
Ward wants smoking restricted to the airport-style smoking lounges that casinos built off the gaming floor when the smoking ban temporarily went into effect for two weeks last year, before it was repealed.
Casinos complained that business declined dramatically during the two weeks of no smoking. Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of the three Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. casinos, predicted that a smoking ban now would be catastrophic. He said the current law for casino smoking is a good compromise.
The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group representing the gaming industry, said that thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue could be lost if customers flee Atlantic City for smoke-friendly casinos in surrounding states.
"Since the economy has continued to deteriorate and our regional competitors continue to permit smoking in their casinos, the ability to continue to allow smoking on a portion of our casino floors is essential to avoid a further deterioration of our local economy," Joseph A. Corbo Jr., the association's president, said in a statement.
Stressing the health dangers of smoking, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society are urging City Council to approve a total ban. They noted that New Jersey's 2006 Smoke Free Air Act protects the state's entire work force, with the exception of Atlantic City's casino employees.
Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, Atlantic City's largest casino union, argued that a smoking ban should be delayed for at least another year, while the economy recovers from the recession, to preserve jobs that might otherwise be lost if business sinks further.
Hardly surprising, casino customers are split on the issue. Smokers claim they have every right to light up, while nonsmokers say they don't want to be bothered by secondhand smoke.
A New Jersey state senate committee has considered a ban on smoking in all of Atlantic City's 11 casinos -- something the city itself has been unable to impose.
The New Jersey smoking ban was signed a law Sunday, January 15, 2006 banning smoking in bars, restaurants and most other indoor public places, the rule excluded casino gambling areas. New Jersey Gov. Signs Smoking Ban, Casinos Excepted, Associated Press, 1/15/2006.
Reference: Atlantic City to debate casino smoking ban again by DONALD WITTKOWSKI Staff Writer, PressofAtlanticCity.com, 10/19/2009.
Photo by: Danny Drake..