Atlantic City OKs
‘partial’ smoking ban

Jan 30, 2007 4:02 AM

Despite impassioned pleas by casino workers and health advocates, the Atlantic City Council last week backed off a total casino smoking ban, and instead approved an ordinance that would allow smoking on 25 percent of a casino’s floor.

Apparently they felt casino workers need worry about only 25 percent of their lung tissue.

The smoking areas would need to be sealed off and provided with its own air filtration system.

Until just a few days ago, the workers and their advocates expected the council to approve a total ban on smoking, based on earlier votes.

"This is not a compromise. This is a capitulation," said Ray Mazzoli, a casino worker and Atlantic City resident. "When did you become so scared? When did you become so impotent?"

City Councilman Dennis Mason, who arrived at the compromise with casino officials at the request of Council President William Marsh, called the amended ordinance a "win-win." He predicted the casino industry would probably have challenged a total ban, delaying a curb on the smoking hazard possibly for years.

He also said some of the smoking sections will be lounges, not staffed gaming areas.

Joseph A. Corbo Jr., executive director of the Casino Association of New Jersey, testified that the compromise "gives us the opportunity to mitigate the economic concerns" that could adversely affect employment.

In recent weeks, Corbo had said that going smoke-free could cost the casinos up to 20 percent of their annual revenues and lead to the loss of up to 3,400 jobs. The casinos did not rule out a court challenge before the compromise.

However, the vast majority of last night’s speakers weren’t buying the economic necessity of the relaxed ban or the compromise.

"The amended version will create more dangerous environments, intolerably dangerous environments," said Regina Carlson, executive director of NJ GASP (Group Against Smoking Pollution).

She also said that "it caters to the unfounded fears of the casinos."

Helena Rafferty, a casino dealer, testified that she didn’t think there would be enough volunteers to work in the smoking areas and that people might lose their jobs.

"I’m tired of being sick," Rafferty said. "I’m tired of burying our dealers."

Representatives of groups such as the American Cancer Society spoke in favor of a total smoking ban. Robin Williams, senior regional director of advocacy for the American Heart Association, said the group would try to appeal to the City Council and, if that fails, to the state Legislature or even the courts.

Jennifer Guillermain, who has worked as a gaming supervisor for 16 years at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino, said employees are already balking at working in the smoking rooms.

"No one is going to volunteer. And now we’re afraid for our jobs if we say we don’t want to work in those rooms," she said.

She said the solution is to create non-gaming smoking lounges where patrons wishing to light up can do so, then return to the tables.

On the other side of the debate is Leroy Parden, a slots player from Philadelphia. Parden lit up a cigarette while pulling the lever at Resorts Atlantic City before the council met.

"I think it should be wherever you play your money at," he said. "You relax with a cigarette while you’re playing a game. At least I do."