Atlantic City, N.J. (AP) - Atlantic City gambling floors will go smoke-free for seven days before allowing visitors to light up again because the city can't legally stop a smoking ban from taking effect, the city council president said Friday.
City Council President William Marsh told The Associated Press the unusual arrangement is the only way to legally proceed and the ban will start on Wednesday as previously scheduled.
"It is the law right now ... we won't be scrambling around to try to change the date," he said.
With the economy crumbling and revenues plunging, the City Council moved earlier this week to postpone for a year a law that was to take effect Oct. 15 banning smoking from the gambling floor.
The casinos and the head of their largest workers union had asked the council to put the ban on hold until the economy improves.
They fear deep losses and significant layoffs if smokers take their money elsewhere. Some casinos in nearby states do not restrict smoking.
But the council's preliminary decision still needs a final vote on Oct. 22, and the ban is set to take effect a week before that.
Thus, the ban will be in effect from Oct. 15 until Oct. 22, when the council is expected to finally approve the delay.
Marsh said council members spent all day Thursday considering options including a special meeting to try to change the date, but were unable to agree.
He predicted the 5-4 vote in favor of delaying the ban would be repeated.
But Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP), said she hopes the week of clean air will prove so irresistible to workers and customers that the council vote can be reversed.
"Casinos workers will finally breathe clean air and be in a safe workplace," she said. "Once this starts, there's no turning back."
Four casinos owned by Harrah's Entertainment say they will go smoke-free on the gambling floor anyway on Wednesday, and stay that way, offering patrons ventilated smoking lounges.
Two other casinos will force their smoking patrons to go outside, while the other five will offer smoking lounges away from the slot machines and table games.
That will prove incredibly confusing for patrons, said Paula Cifelli, a dealer at Caesars Atlantic City who supports a total smoking ban.
"Customers are not going to know what's going on," she said.