Atlantic City – Donald Trump thinks his casinos and others in town deserve a smoking break.
Trump wrote to Mayor Bob Levy and City Council President William Marsh on Wednesday calling on the city to repeal a partial casino smoking ban that he claims is scaring away business.
In his two-page letter, Trump said gamblers are fleeing Atlantic City en masse for competing casinos in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut that don’t have smoking restrictions.
„The negative impact of the city ordinance is even more than the mere loss of a large number of smoking patrons to Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut casinos and the perhaps permanent decline in Atlantic City gaming revenue,“ Trump wrote. „It also requires that each casino operator expend millions of dollars to enclose its gaming floor smoking areas with structures which will significantly obstruct the customary flow of gaming patron activity and at the same time look absolutely terrible.“
Atlantic City’s partial ban, which took effect on April 15, limits smoking to no more than 25 percent of the gaming floor at the 11 casinos. Smoking is off-limits in the remaining 75 percent of the gaming space.
Marsh said Wednesday evening he had not yet seen Trump’s letter but noted that the 75-25 smoking compromise was supported by the Casino Association of New Jersey, the gaming industry trade group that includes the three Trump casinos.
„At this point, I think the 75-25 split is very favorable,“ Marsh said. „That is something that the Casino Association supported along with the majority of the casinos. So at this point, I don’t know if Mr. Trump has additional information that we don’t have.“
Levy, who also said Wednesday evening he had not yet seen Trump’s letter, stated that it would first be up to City Council to repeal the partial smoking ban. Only then would he have to decide whether to use his mayoral veto power.
„City Council is going to have to, if they so desire, change the ordinance. After City Council does that, then of course I would have to consider the health of the whole industry and also the health of employees of the various casinos in town,“ Levy said.
If city officials are unwilling to revoke the ban, Trump argued that at the very least, the ordinance should be suspended until Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut enact their own casino smoking restrictions.
„City government has the authority to remove this substantial impediment to our ability to compete with the Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut casinos,“ he wrote. „Many millions of dollars are being lost by Atlantic City and the state of New Jersey. Please act quickly (before it is too late)!“
Originally, City Council proposed a complete ban, but compromised on the 25 percent limit after the casinos predicted a 20 percent decline in gaming revenue and the loss of as many as 3,400 jobs if smoking was prohibited altogether.
Atlantic City gaming revenue is down 3.7 percent for the first seven months of this year, a decline the casinos blame on the partial smoking ban and the extra competition from newly opened slot parlors in Pennsylvania and New York.
„In fact, many analysts now predict that the New Jersey casino industry in 2007 will experience its first ever year-over-year decline in gross gaming revenue since gaming began here in 1978. The smoking ban is the significant cause,“ Trump wrote.
For now, casinos are complying with the law by setting aside smoking areas designated by signs. However, they are required to submit plans by Sept. 15 for fully enclosed smoking rooms equipped with their own ventilation systems. Casinos must move „expeditiously“ to build the smoking rooms once the plans are approved the state Department of Community Affairs.
Trump complained that the enclosed smoking areas are already being mocked as „smoke boxes or choking boxes“ and threaten to drive away even more customers. Arguing against smoking of any kind, anti-smoking advocates have said the walled-in smoking areas would be „gas chambers“ or „death traps“ for patrons and casino employees alike.
„I would think he would be more interested in wanting to protect his patrons and workers,“ Karen Blumenfeld, director of policy and the legal resource center for the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution, said of Trump. „I would assume Donald Trump operates in a smoke-free environment. It’s unfair to have his workers and patrons in an environment that is not as safe as the one he’s in every day.“
Blumenfeld’s organization, which goes by the acronym GASP, joined with other anti-smoking advocates to lobby City Council for the hard-fought partial smoking ban.