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Some worry smoking ban would force them to kick bingo habit

CONCORD, N.H. --A proposed ban on smoking in bars and restaurants has some smokers worried they'll have to kick their bingo habit.

Players with ink daubers in one hand and cigarettes in the other are a common site at bingo halls across the state. But many fear the smoking ban under consideration by the Legislature will end that practice.

"I love to gamble. I love to smoke when I'm gambling," said Mae Caskins, a retired police officer from Laconia who plays four nights a week. "But I'm going to have give it up. I'm not going to sit some place for four or five hours when I can't smoke."

It's unclear whether the proposed ban -- which passed the Senate last month -- would apply to bingo halls. It specifies that "social, fraternal or religious organizations" could allow smoking at members-only events but not at events open to the general public, such as bean suppers or bingo games.

But the bill is unclear about bingo games held at commercial bingo centers, which could fall under another section of the legislation that would allow smoking to continue in segregated areas at a range of other facilities.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a co-sponsor, said he thought smoking would continue to be allowed at the games. Sen. Bob Clegg, who opposes the ban, believes bingo halls would be covered by the ban because they sell snacks and drinks. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces smoking laws, found the bill's language inconclusive.

According to the state's Pari-Mutuel Commission, which regulates gambling, there are 120 sanctioned bingo games held in the state each week. On a busy night, players can choose from 20 games, held at a mix of social halls and churches as well as at 10 commercial bingo centers where charitable organizations host bingo nights.

Sue Guay, a nonsmoker from Pittsfield, plays every week at the Bektash Shrine game in Concord. Guay, who has asthma, said she's tired of needing her inhaler after bingo, even when she sits in the nonsmoking section.

"It should be banned. Who wants to breathe in secondhand smoke?" she said. "I go home and my husband doesn't want to come near me because he can smell it. He's an ex-smoker."

The smoking ban passed the House by 33 votes last year, but failed in the Senate by one vote. It passed the Senate last month 17-7 and is expected to pass when it comes up in the House.

More than a dozen states and hundreds of cities and counties around the country ban smoking in restaurants, bars or both. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does neither.

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Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.cmonitor.com

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