Atlantic City delays vote on smoking ban

In a surprise move, the city council on Friday delayed a vote on an ordinance banning smoking on casino floors. Instead, the council by a 9-0 vote amended the proposed regulation to extend implementation until April 15 – the first anniversary of the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act – in deference to concerns from the gaming industry.

Had the bill passed Friday, the law would take effect in 30 days. The state Legislature exempted casinos when it approved the smoke-free act earlier this year. „It’s not the outcome I hoped for,“ said Sharon Carfagno, a cocktail server at Harrah’s.

Bruce Ward, the councilman who introduced the ordinance, acknowledged even one day’s delay is too much, but said the reality dictates the changes. The council said a lawsuit by the casinos against the bill could tie up the ban for years. „This is a compromise in timing, not principle,“ Councilman Gene Robinson told a standing room only crowd in the chambers. „We were asked to delay this for six months to a year. So we ask your indulgence.“

The council didn’t want to be seen as steam rolling the most important game in town, said analyst Joe Weinert, managing editor of Gaming Industry Observer. While the casinos should know the inevitable is coming, the industry has a fiduciary responsibility to make as much money as it can.

„This will put a dent in revenues. So you can’t blame the industry for wanting the same conditions they’ve had almost 30 years,“ Weinert said. Most of the audience leaned toward support of the ordinance.

Kelly Lewis, 16, of Mullica Hill, represented REBEL, Reach Everyone By Exposing Lies. „I think it’s an important issue,“ she said. Evelyn Scholl of the Southwest Council in Glassboro, a coalition of volunteers including REBEL, expected the ordinance to pass. „I know casino workers who have issues with bronchitis. But they can’t quit and they’re afraid to speak out. But the delay is all right as long as they follow through.“
Thomas Duffy, an official with the American Cancer Society, said the council will live up to its word. „I think council spoke with strong concerns,“ he said.

Indeed, the gaming industry hopes to convince the city’s legislative body to compromise even further before a second vote is taken next month.“April 15th doesn’t give us enough time on the issues. But we have more time to speak with council members,“ said Joseph Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey.

The council appointed a subcommittee to look into the issue, a move which gives the industry a spark of hope for further compromise. The casino industry’s opposition hinges on an expected loss of gaming revenue in the neighborhood of 20 percent at a time when slot machines in Pennsylvania and New York ramp up. Officials cite the example of Delaware, which saw a drop-off following a smoking ban in 2003.