N.J. considering ban on smoking in casinos
Atlantic City tried 3 times, but board failed to impose
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - New Jersey is considering a ban on smoking in all of Atlantic City's 11 casinos - something the city itself has been unable to impose.
A state Senate committee is considering a bill to remove the casino exemption to the statewide smoking ban in public places. That's something the Atlantic City Council has tried - and failed - to do three times.
Under a compromise that seems to be pleasing no one, smoking is restricted to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor. That has smokers fuming that there's not enough space for them, and many casino workers angry they still have to breathe secondhand smoke, even in nonsmoking areas.
Don Salsburg, a craps dealer in Atlantic City casinos for 25 years, said he never would have gotten into the industry if he knew then what he knows now about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
"The shortness of breath, the burning of my eyes and nose, and the headaches are par for the course for me," he said. "The city and state have told me there's a significant probability I will have to die younger for money."
But Tom Scully, a dealer at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said a total smoking ban could cost him and thousands of his colleagues their jobs and their ability to support their families.
"This is not about smoking, but remaining gainfully employed," he said. "If all things were equal, of course, I would want to work in a smoke-free environment. But all things are not equal; people have other options than Atlantic City."
Atlantic City is in its third year of a revenue drop that began when Philadelphia-area slots parlors opened, offering gamblers the opportunity to play - and smoke - much closer to home.
The global economic crisis is also hitting the Atlantic City casinos hard. Thousands of jobs have been lost, three casinos are in bankruptcy, a fourth is headed there in a week or two, and still another is fighting foreclosure.
"To [enact a total smoking ban] at this time of tremendous economic strife and uncertainty for our industry would be very damaging to our entire industry and particularly to those of our casinos and their thousands of employees which are struggling to survive," said Joseph Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry's trade group.
"Without question, these have been the most difficult circumstances that New Jersey's casino industry have faced in its 30-year history, both in terms of duration and impact," he said.
State Senator Joseph Vitale, chairman of the Senate committee that heard testimony yesterday, said the casinos will never willingly accept a total smoking ban.
In 2006, New Jersey enacted a statewide smoking ban but conspicuously exempted the casinos from it. Otherwise, there would not have been enough votes to pass the measure, Vitale said.
Atlantic City's local government has tried three times since January 2007 to enact a total smoking ban but backed off each time in the face of fierce opposition from the casinos.
A bill passed the Senate, 35 to 0, in 2007 but was never voted on by the Assembly. No votes have been scheduled in either chamber this year.
Dr. Fred Jacobs, New Jersey's former health commissioner, said there is no excuse for continuing to allow smoking in casinos.
"Are the casino workers less worthy of protection than all other workers in our state?" he asked.