The nine-member Atlantic City Council is expected to take up a controversial measure later today that will prohibit smoking in all the casino floors here for the first time in the seaside resort’s 30-year history of gambling.
Four council members are co-sponsors of the measure, and only one more member is needed for passage. The call for a full smoking ban arrives on the eve of the first anniversary of the partial smoking ban that took effect April 15, 2007. That confined smoking to 25 percent of the casino floors here, also known as the „75-25 rule.“
The one-year old law required the 11 casinos to build enclosed smoking structures within their confines. To date, none of the Atlantic City casinos has built them, according to the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency in Trenton in charge of approving such plans. Several casino operators have said they were waiting to see if a full ban on smoking eventually would be taken up by City Council before committing millions of dollars to building the enclosures.
A compromise was reached last week between Atlantic City casino officials and some council members. The amendment to the proposed measure would allow casinos to have smoking within enclosed lounges that offered no gaming and were unattended by employees of the casinos. The lounges would resemble those found in airports.
A total ban on smoking would apply to casinos that do not build enclosures.
Some casino worker groups have aligned with non-profit health organizations over the past year to counter what they described as enormous pressure by the casino industry to defeat last year’s push for a full smoking ban. The full nine-member council will vote on the measure at its 5 p.m. meeting today.
„The state is continuing to discriminate against us, and we are depending on the City Council to live up to its integrity and obligation of protecting the health, welfare and safety of its citizens,“ said Nate Chait, 52, a long-time casino employee who works as a table games supervisor for one of the city’s biggest casinos. „The smoke is more concentrated in a smoking pit.
„People would call in sick rather than work in those areas and risk getting sick,“ he said. „It creates all sorts of scheduling problems. Hopefully, this will pass, and we will go from there.“ But casino operators have argued many of their patrons smoke and that a full ban on smoking would lead to a further erosion of gaming revenue and profit.
Total revenue year-to-date ended February 29 was down 4.4 percent from the previous year for Atlantic City’s casinos. Wall Street analysts have cited Pennsylvania slots parlors as the main reason for the decline and, to some extent, the year-old partial smoking ban.
Andrew Zarnett, a gambling industry analyst with Deutsche Bank AG in New York, wrote in a note to investors earlier this month that a full smoking ban „would have a detrimental effect on Atlantic City revenues as visitations decline in the short term.“
Zarnett blamed a recently enacted full smoking ban in Illinois and a weak national economy for a 20 percent drop in revenue last month for Illinois casinos versus a year ago. The statewide smoking ban in Illinois took effect January 1, 2008.