A legal opinion issued Thursday in Connecticut may allow lawmakers to extend a state smoking ban to the American-Indian casinos, which claim that smoking restrictions would be a threat to tribal sovereignty.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have debated this week to make casinos completely smoke-free or limit smoking to 25 percent of the gaming floor which is similar to the smoking restrictions in Atlantic City.

“The New Jersey Casino Association, a trade group representing Atlantic City’s 11 gaming halls, says smoking restrictions in Connecticut and Pennsylvania could help ease the competitive disadvantage they believe the city has been facing.”

“One of our industry’s primary concerns with the current smoking-ban circumstances is the lack of a level playing field across all gaming jurisdictions,” said Joseph A. Corbo Jr., association president. “This results in a situation in which gaming customers who smoke, which is a significant sector of our market, choose to patronize casinos where they can smoke, including the Pennsylvania racinos and the tribal casinos in Connecticut.”

The anniversary of the law that restricts smoking in 75 percent of the casino floor, on April 15, 2007 in Atlantic City, NJ, is approaching. The next step is for casinos to build enclosed areas with ventilation to stop the spread of smoke throughout the floor.

Casinos say that the smoking bans and competition from Pennsylvania and Connecticut casinos resulted in a 5.7 decrease in gaming revenue in 2007. It was the first drop in Atlantic City’s 30-year gaming history.

“So far, no empirical-based data has been set forth that isolates the Atlantic City smoking restrictions as a source for a downturn in revenues,” said Karen Blumenfeld of the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution, known as GASP. “The fact that table games revenues haven’t changed shows that people are not going elsewhere for table games, like Connecticut, even though they have the choice.”

Atlantic City gaming executives hope that a nationwide smoking ban will go into effect in the future. For now they hope that lawmakers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania will enact the smoking ban to help preserve business in New Jersey.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut released an opinion Thursday supporting the extension of 2003’s smoking ban for bars and restaurants to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have vowed to fight a state casino smoking ban, claiming it would infringe on their right for self-governance on tribal territory.

“We’ve strongly stated in the past, it’s clearly a tribal law or regulation,” said Arthur Henick, a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, operator of Foxwoods. “We have the right to set the rules on the reservation.”

Pennsylvania may enact a smoking ban in May, but must decide whether it will completely restrict smoking or reduce it to 25 percent of the gaming floor. A Pennsylvania Senate and House conference committee held hearings this week for testimony on a proposed smoking ban.

Atlantic City is not in the clear yet. Gov. John Corzine supports a ban to completely restrict smoking on the casino floor, but the bill has stalled in the state Assembly.

For further information please visit the Press of Atlantic City.

Tamika M. Murray

http://pjsandamovie.blogspot.com

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