Despite a long history of smoking in Atlantic City casinos, the city has decided to stamp out smoking in the town’s 11 casinos. In a unanimous vote last Friday, the City Council in Atlantic City voted to ban smoking in casinos, but revised the ban to take effect on April 15, 2007 to give the industry more time to prepare.
Mayor Robert Levy can sign it into law after 20 days.
The ban has casino operators worried that some of their loyal customers might go to more smoker-friendly establishments, such as Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, the Native American-owned casinos in Connecticut, or even to slot machine parlors in Pennsylvania.
"Given the economic effects that the imposition of a smoking ban would cause," revenues would plummet 20 percent, resulting in "approximately 3,400 employees being laid off," Casino Association of New Jersey Association chief Joseph Corbo told the New York Daily News.
About a year ago, the state Legislature snuffed out smoking in most indoor public spaces, but casinos were granted an exemption.
However, Councilman Bruce Ward says he found a loophole.
"The New Jersey Clean Air Act allows a municipality to create an ordinance that gives equal or greater protection (to its people)," said Ward, a healthcare lawyer who says he wants to protect the city’s more than 15,000 casino employees.
"Second-hand smoke inhalation is serious," Ward continued. "There is no mechanical means to remove it completely."
With the bill’s passage, there is some thought that the casinos might sue on the grounds that the state, not the city, has jurisdiction over the casinos.
Reaction on the casino floors and in nearby stores was mixed. "I’ll still come down," said Sal Lucchesi, visiting Resorts from Vineland, N.J. "But it isn’t very pleasant sitting next to someone who’s puffing away."
Nearby, Jim Lesslie of Mechanicsville, Pa., frowned as he played a 25-cent slot.
"I’ve been smoking for 60 years," he said, "and I would be less inclined to come to Atlantic City if there was a smoking ban. I don’t think it’s proper for anybody to interfere with what I enjoy."
Barbara Gale of Staten Island kept feeding her penny slot, a pack of Marlboros at her side. "I like it the way it is," she said. "Playing and smoking at the same time is very relaxing."
At the Taj Mahal’s Landau jewelry shop just off the casino floor, new saleswoman Julia Belikova, a Russian immigrant, said, "I hate smoke. It comes out of the casino floor all day. It should stop."
Her colleague Anna Ferris disagreed. "People will just go to Connecticut or fly to Vegas."
On the Boardwalk, Razik Khan was smoking as he stared into his empty gift shop, the Lucky Star.
"Business has been very slow this year. If people aren’t allowed to smoke, they won’t come here. That means less business," he said.