Smoking restrictions begin at Atlantic City casinos

Atlantic City, New Jersey — The air inside Atlantic City’s casinos was notably cleaner Sunday, as a restrictive new smoking law took effect.

Well-placed signs let gamblers determine which areas were OK to smoke in, and only a few patrons had to be reminded not to light up in no-smoking areas.

The new law restricts smoking to no more than 25 percent of a casino’s floor. It went into effect Sunday, exactly a year after New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act prohibited cigar, cigarette and pipe smoking in restaurants, bars, private office buildings and other indoor places.

„You could tell the difference,“ said Ida Valentin of Brooklyn, N.Y. as she played the slot machines in a no-smoking section of Bally’s Atlantic City. „I noticed it as soon as I walked in. There’s not that smell anymore. I really think it’s good.“

Smokers seemed to have few complaints as well.

„It wasn’t bad at all,“ said Carol Haupt of Jermyn, Pa. „I found a smoking section right away.“

The new law is a compromise proposal reached after Atlantic City proposed banning smoking completely in all its 11 casinos. The casino industry protested, fearing the loss of 20 percent of its revenue, and as many as 3,400 jobs.

So the council passed an ordinance limiting smoking to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor.

At Bally’s, signs were posted atop each bank of slot machines that read either „Smoking Prohibited“ or „Smoking Permitted.“ Similar floor signs were placed at the entrance to corridors of table games.

„I noticed when I first came in that the places I usually play were still smoking-allowed,“ said Priscilla Winter of Swedesboro. „That worked out great for me.“

Winter visits Atlantic City casinos about a dozen times a year, but says she would take her business to Pennsylvania slots parlors if smoking were banned in Atlantic City.

„I don’t have a problem with separate areas like it used to be in restaurants, but there still needs to be a section for smokers,“ she said. „For a lot of people, gambling and smoking go together.“

The law will eventually require the casinos to build floor-to-ceiling enclosures with powerful ventilation systems to remove smoke from the air. The gambling houses have until Sept. 15 to submit their plans to the state Department of Community affairs. They then have 90 days after the state approves the plans _ whenever that might be _ to begin work on the enclosures, and finish them „expeditiously.“

Not everyone played by the rules. Several patrons were smoking in nonsmoking areas. One, when approached by a reporter who informed him of the area’s designation, barked, „Don’t know, don’t care.“

But a security guard at Bally’s said most patrons respected the new rules, saying he had to ask „just a very small handful“ to either put out their cigarette or move to a smoking area.

„We’re very pleased with the cooperation of our customers and employees in following the new smoking rule changes,“ said Alyce Parker, a spokeswoman for Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., which owns four Atlantic City casinos including Bally’s. „We sent letters to our customer base about 10 days ago explaining the rules, and we enclosed a map of what areas would be smoking and what ones wouldn’t, and that really seems to have helped.“