AC stumbles again on smoking ban

Debate continues over ban
March 27, 2008 5:03:03 AM PDT
Once again, Atlantic City has crapped out in its efforts to ban smoking in the resort city's casinos.The City Council was poised to introduce an ordinance Wednesday that would ban smoking on the gambling floors of all 11 casinos; it would have let gamblers light up only in designated smoking lounges.

But the measure was removed from the agenda by Council President William "Speedy" Marsh, who was angered that last-minute changes to the plan were worked out by several councilmen without his involvement.

"Everyone knew but me, until I got a call from a reporter," Marsh said, as several in the audience of casino workers and anti-smoking campaigners groaned. "There was never discussion with me. I deserve that respect."

Marsh said the ordinance will be reconsidered in two weeks, despite entreaties from council members to proceed Wednesday night.

Mayor Scott Evans said he supports a total smoking ban, but is willing to consider other options, such as smoking lounges or improved air circulation inside the casinos.

"Somebody needs to take some action and do something to improve the conditions," he said. We can't keep doing what we're doing. Secondhand smoke has been proven to be a danger to the employees and the visitors to the casinos."

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, 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 law that would have been introduced Wednesday night was to have taken effect 90 days after it was signed into law by the mayor. But Councilman George Tibbett requested that the 90-day period start on Wednesday, regardless of when the ordinance is eventually passed.

Marsh agreed to the change. But Evans said requiring casinos to undertake disruptive construction work during the summer months, which are the busiest for the gambling halls, would hurt their business in an already difficult economic climate.