7 the hard way for smokers at AC casinos

Atlantic City, New Jersey – Seven and 11 are lucky numbers at any casino, but for smokers in Atlantic City, it soon will be seven the hard way.

In order to comply with restrictions on smoking passed by Atlantic City officials earlier this year, 7 of the city’s 11 casinos plan to go totally smoke-free on the gambling floor.

They’ll do it by creating smoking lounges where gambling will not be offered. Thus, patrons wishing to light up will have to leave the roulette wheel, card table or slot machine and walk into one of the enclosed areas.

That had Michael Ashe, known to friends at the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort as „D.C. Mike,“ in a foul mood Monday afternoon.

„I’m a gambler. That’s what gamblers do , gamble and smoke,“ the Washington, D.C. man said. „The casinos are going to lose a lot of money on this, trust me.“

But Karen Russell, visiting from Annapolis, Md., welcomes the coming changes.

„I used to smoke, and even when I did, I couldn’t stand being at the tables with all the other smokers,“ she said. „You couldn’t breathe in there. I think it’s good what they’re doing.“

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is the latest to announce plans to create non-gambling smoking lounges, joining six other Atlantic City casinos who have chosen to go the same route.

They are the Showboat Hotel-Casino; Harrah’s Atlantic City; Bally’s Atlantic City; Caesars Atlantic City; the Tropicana Casino and Resort, and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.

The two Trump casinos , Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, and Trump Marina Hotel Casino , will create separate smoking enclosures where gambling will be offered. Resorts Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort plan to hedge their bets by creating smoking lounges with and without gambling.

The casinos had until Saturday to submit their plans to comply with the law to the state.

Although there is no firm timetable set for the changes, at least some of the casinos say they envision having the lounges up and running by next spring.

The City Council in Atlantic City had been set to ban smoking in all the casinos earlier this year, but relented under fierce pressure from the industry, which said it feared losing 20 percent of its revenue and as many as 3,400 jobs if smoking was totally banned.

Under a compromise, smoking must be banned on at least 75 percent of the casino floor. The law requires physical barriers to prevent smoke from bothering customers and employees in nonsmoking areas.

State Sen. John Adler, a sponsor of New Jersey’s far-reaching public smoking ban, said Monday that the casinos should eliminate all smoking.

„The casino industry’s doom and gloom forecast that the smoking ban will kill business is over-hyped,“ said Adler, D-Cherry Hill. „In reality, more people will come to Atlantic City when they realize they can leave without smelling like an ashtray.“

The casinos need to get with the program and join the thousands of bars and restaurants in New Jersey who have realized that the smoking ban has been good for business,“ he said.

Joe Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the decision on how to comply with the law is up to each individual gambling hall.

Peter Slocum, a vice president with the American Cancer Society, said the trend is clearly away from smoking in public places. He hailed the changes that will take place in the casinos.

„There has been a great change in the public’s attitude about this issue,“ he said. „We are very encouraged.“