OK given to partial ban on casino smoking

Thursday, January 25, 2007

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Casinos here are a breath away from partitioning their floors into smoking and nonsmoking areas, after a compromise of an earlier proposal to snuff cigarettes passed an initial vote Wednesday. If the plan passes the city council, a quarter of each casino's gaming floor would be designated smoking areas. The final vote is expected in two weeks. The original plan to completely ban smoking in casinos would have made New Jersey the nation's largest gambling destination to do so. Supporters of that proposal, like Vince Rennich, say that plan should not have changed. Rennich, a 25-year table games supervisor with the Tropicana Casino & Resort, blames his lung cancer on having to breathe secondhand smoke for so long. "They cut a back-room deal on this and betrayed us," he said. "They stuck it to us pretty good." The council came up with the compromise after furious opposition to the ban from the casino industry, which feared the loss of 20 percent of its revenue and 3,400 jobs.

Councilman Dennis Mason said the smoking areas would be walled off from floor to ceiling, and equipped with powerful ventilation systems to suck smoke out of the air and carry it out of the building.

"Everybody wins in this," Mason said.

Jennifer Guillermain, who has worked as a gaming supervisor for 16 years at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino, said employees are already balking at working in the smoking rooms.

"No one is going to volunteer. And now we're afraid for our jobs if we say we don't want to work in those rooms," she said.

She said the solution is to create non-gaming smoking lounges where patrons wishing to light up can do so, then return to the tables.

On the other side of the debate is Leroy Parden, a slots player from Philadelphia. Parden lit up a cigarette while pulling the lever at Resorts Atlantic City before the council met.

"I think it should be wherever you play your money at," he said. "You relax with a cigarette while you're playing a game. At least I do."

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