AC extends smoking ban to 12 days

October 14, 2008 12:00:44 PM PDT
Atlantic City's temporary smoking ban just got a little longer.The ban, which takes effect on Wednesday, was to have ended on Oct. 22 after being in effect for just seven days.

But City Council President William Marsh said the ban will be extended through at least Oct. 27, meaning gamblers will have to wait 12 days or longer before they are allowed to light up on the casino floor again.

It could be longer than 12 days if Mayor Scott Evans won't sign the revised ordinance delaying a ban - something that has to happen for it to legally take effect. Evan has yet to commit to extending the ban.

Marsh said the council still intends to delay a total smoking ban until at least October of next year, but can't legally vote to do it until the 27th. There won't be enough councilmen present at the Oct. 22 to pass the ordinance that would delay the ban.

"Let's keep extending it forever and ever, and everyone will be happy and healthy," said Michele Holcomb, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society. "The more this gets delayed, the longer casino workers and casino patrons can enjoy a healthy environment, and people will start to get used to it. They'll demand it."

Under a vote taken in April, the council set Oct. 15 as the day that a total ban on smoking on the casino floor takes effect at all 11 gambling halls here. A week ago, it decided it wanted to delay putting the ban into effect, but was legally unable to prevent the previously approved ordinance from taking effect.

The casino operators want the smoking ban delayed due to the worsening economy; they fear further revenue declines and layoffs if they were forced to prevent gamblers from smoking.

September saw the largest one-month drop in revenue in the 30-year history of casino gambling in Atlantic City, down 15.1 percent. Some casino officials fear monthly declines of as much as 30 percent if a smoking ban were added to the already bad economy.

The fear is that smoking gamblers will take their money elsewhere; slots parlors in Pennsylvania have partial smoking bans, while Indian casinos in Connecticut do not restrict smoking.

Once the ban is repealed, Atlantic City will revert back to its previous arrangement under which smoking is limited to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor. Casinos who have built or are nearing completion of smoking lounges will be able to let patrons light up inside them - away from the slot machines and table games.

Harrah's Entertainment Inc. initially said it would open its smoking lounges on Wednesday and stay that way. But the company now says it will join the rest of the city's casinos and allow smoking on 25 percent of the casino floor.

J. Carlos Tolosa, the company's eastern division president, said Harrah's would put itself at a competitive disadvantage if it didn't allow smoking while everyone else did.

Evans would not say whether he would sign the ordinance that would delay the ban on Oct. 27.

"I'll be in town that night; that's all I'm going to say at this point," he said.