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Casino Smoke Ruling

Casino Smoke Ruling / Just Pass The Ban

Published: Friday, February 15, 2008 – Press of Atlantic City

Well, this always seemed inevitable to us.

Why it hasn’t seemed inevitable to the casino industry – and why the industry hasn’t been more afraid of cases like this – is well … hazy.

A state workers’ compensation judge has ruled that a casino dealer’s 10 years of secondhand-smoke exposure materially contributed to her lung cancer. The dealer, Kam Wong, never smoked herself, nor did anyone in her household smoke. The insurance company for the former Claridge Casino Hotel is now responsible for any future medical treatment related to Wong’s work in the casino.

And this won’t be the last such case.

Yes, casino revenue in Atlantic City is down, and many in the industry blame the city’s partial smoking ban, which restricts smoking to 25 percent of the casino floor. The state’s public-smoking ban, which exempted casino floors, prohibits smoking in casino hotels’ other public areas. But at least one poll has concluded that more New Jersey residents would patronize casinos if they went completely smoke-free.

Besides, the debate is, in essence, over.

Revel Entertainment Group’s Atlantic City casino will be completely smoke-free when it opens. Last year, James Perry, then head of Trump Entertainment Resorts, said: “Generally speaking, we believe over the next three-year period, smoking will be banned in almost all casinos throughout the United States or certainly on the Eastern Seaboard. Long-term, we have to be prepared to operate these casinos in a smoke-free environment.”

And now, the court cases have come rolling in. The science about the dangers of secondhand smoke has been clear for sometime; more court cases will soon follow – and, almost certainly, in lawsuits posing far more liability for the industry than this one workers’ compensation case.

Atlantic City’s partial ban is not really being enforced anyway. The casinos’ plans for dividing up their casino floors into smoking/no-smoking areas or building nongaming smoking rooms will be neither cheap to build nor particularly effective.

It’s over. A bill in the state Senate to ban smoking on casino floors – just as it is banned in virtually every other workplace in the state – has been reintroduced. It was approved in the Senate last year but languished in the Assembly. It’s time for the casinos to drop their opposition and for state lawmakers to end the casino smoking exemption.

That would make Atlantic City’s partial ban moot. The casinos could drop plans for the expensive retrofitting of their casino floors. And the industry won’t look quite so culpable the next time a nonsmoking casino dealer with lung cancer goes before a judge or jury seeking damages.

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