ut there's still no consensus on whether to stick with the current arrangement, which permits smoking on 25 % of the casino floor, or to try again for a total ban. "Right now, I don't see where many minds have changed on council," said City Council President William "Speedy" Marsh, who plans to poll council members soon on the issue.
Marsh, who has battled health problems over the past year, said he personally favors trying again for a total ban on smoking. "Every dollar you have in life doesn't mean a thing if you don't have good health," he said. "This is a health issue."
But the casinos continue to oppose a total ban. Already battered by the poor economy and fierce competition from Pennsylvania and New York slots parlors, the gambling halls fear even further revenue declines they say would happen when their smoking customers take their business elsewhere. "A 100 % smoking ban would be catastrophic," said Mark Juliano, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts, whose three Atlantic City casinos are operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. "Right now, we just can't face another negative."
So far this year, Atlantic City's casino revenue is down 15.1 %, and there are about 400 fewer casino jobs than there were at the start of the year. Since the first of eight slots parlors opened in Pennsylvania, touching off Atlantic City's downward spiral, the city has lost nearly 8,900 casino jobs.
Atlantic City actually did ban smoking for two weeks last year, but by accident. It approved a ban months in advance, then acted too late to legally prevent it from taking effect. During the two weeks that all smoking was banned in Atlantic City casinos, several of the gambling halls said their revenue losses doubled.
Councilman G. Bruce Ward said marketing Atlantic City as a smoke-free destination could bring in new customers who now shun the gambling halls. But Councilman Dennis Mason said Atlantic City would be placing itself at an even greater disadvantage by banning smoking; the Pennsylvania slots parlors allow it on 50 percent of the gambling floor.
"We should go to a 100 % smoking ban when all the other casinos in neighboring states do it," he said. "It's got to be a fair and equal footing in this recession. There's no other way to go right now."