The debate over health versus profits in Atlantic City casinos swung toward the latter, at least for the next 12 months.
The city Tuesday gave final approval to lifting – for at least a year – a smoking ban in the town’s 11 casinos that went into effect Oct. 15.
Under a measure approved 5-4 by the City Council and signed by Mayor Scott Evans, the ban will be suspended Nov. 15. It would have taken a 6-3 council vote for the measure to become effective immediately, city officials said.
Casino operators have argued that the ban would cripple Atlantic City’s $5 billion gambling industry already reeling from a weak economy and from regional slots competition, primarily from Pennsylvania.
Council member Marty Small said he voted last night to lift the ban "because of the economy. . . . I felt it was the responsible thing to do."
The council first voted to delay the ban Oct. 8, after pressure from seven casinos. City ordinance required a second vote to make the delay final – hence, yesterday’s action.
The four Harrah’s Atlantic City casinos did not request postponement.
Effectively, the city council lifted a ban that it enacted six months ago, one year after a partial smoking ban took effect. The full ban required casinos to construct enclosed lounges where no gaming would be allowed.
In testimony earlier yesterday, casino workers and health advocates had vigorously urged the City Council not to lift the ban.
"There is no reason for their unanimous vote [in April] to be compromised by unsubstantiated fear tactics," Michele Gallagher of the American Cancer Society said before the hearing. "Public health is the guiding factor here."
Debora Ogle, a dealer at Caesars casino, was shaken by last night’s vote. The casinos, she said, "just don’t care about our health. This is not an economic issue. It’s a health issue. How can you put a price tag on someone’s life?"
But one gambler said he was pleased he could still light up while at his favorite slots game at Showboat casino here.
"Smoking lounges do not help very much," said Lucien Cirincione, 73, of Forked River, N.J. "I will not leave the machine I am playing and walk to a smoking lounge to have a cigarette."