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Atlantic City votes to ban smoking on floor of casinos

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[April 24, 2008]  ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Gamblers on the floors of Atlantic City casinos will soon have to give up at least one vice: smoking.

Ending a battle that lasted more than a year, the City Council voted 9-0 Wednesday to end the last major loophole to a tough statewide ban on smoking in public buildings that had conspicuously exempted gambling halls.

But patrons still will be able to light up in unstaffed smoking lounges away from the table games and slot machines if the 11 individual casinos choose to build them. The ban takes effect Oct. 15.

Casino workers -- many wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Nobody deserves to work in an ashtray" -- burst into applause when the votes were counted and chanted, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

"The employees of Atlantic City's casinos have hit a jackpot of their own tonight," said Dr. Arnold M. Baskies, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society in New Jersey and New York. "Hardworking casino employees have been keeping Atlantic City's multibillion-dollar casino industry on a roll but have been gambling with their lives for far too long."

Marybeth Litchholt, a dealer for 21 years at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, said it's about time that casino workers' health is as valued as those of other workers in New Jersey.

"Because of cigarette smoke, I have sinus problems," she said. "There are times when I'm working in the smoking section when I'm short of breath. You can just feel it in your lungs. My clothes stink."

More than two dozen states nationwide regulate smoking inside casinos, eight ban smoking altogether inside the gambling halls, and two others will impose a total ban starting in 2009, according to Karen Blumenfeld, policy director of the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution.

In January 2007, Atlantic City tried to pass its own law banning smoking in the casinos but backed down under withering pressure from the casino industry, which claimed the measure could cut revenue by 20 percent and mean the loss of as many as 3,400 jobs. The City Council then enacted a compromise law restricting smoking to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor.

But that hasn't worked. The smoking areas are still not walled off and separated from nonsmoking areas, as last year's law had called for, and smoke still wafts throughout the casino floor. Smokers still feel persecuted, and casinos still fret about losing business in an already bad economic climate, which is being worsened by the growing success of slots parlors in nearby Pennsylvania and New York.

Kim Hoverman, a smoker from Stone Creek in Cumberland County, said she plans to take her business elsewhere.

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"I don't think there should be separate areas," she said as she played a slot machine and puffed on a cigarette at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. "I won't come here at all; I live closer to Philadelphia, anyway. And I hate smoking outside."

Shortly before the ban was approved, smoker Patricia Mitchell of Washington, D.C., seemed resigned to it.

"It's for my own benefit," she said between pulls on a cigarette and pokes at a slot machine at the Taj Mahal. "I don't object to it because I need to cut down. And I need to get away from these machines."

A continent and half an ocean away from the lights of Atlantic City, a Hawaii county banned smoking at beach parks and other outdoor recreational areas.

The council of Hawaii County -- which covers the Big Island -- voted 7-2 late Tuesday to override Mayor Harry Kim's veto of the ban, despite last-minute pleas from tourism leaders.

Backers were inspired by students who collected more than 2,000 cigarette butts from a beach as a science project and raised concerns about the litter's effects on marine life.

The regulation went into effect immediately. Violators may be issued a $100 citation.

Kim had called an outright ban impractical and unfair and urged the council to consider designating outdoor areas where smoking is allowed.

Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto, who introduced the bill, said he was disappointed by Kim's veto.

"I cannot relate to this addiction or so-called addiction. This bill helps everyone. Smokers will smoke less and we're setting an example for the kids," Yoshimoto said. "This is looking out for the greater good."

[Associated Press; By WAYNE PARRY]

Karin Stanton for The Associated Press contributed to this report from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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