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New Jersey Gov. Signs Smoking Ban, Casinos Excepted

Vince Rennich and Alan Angeloni consider themselves among the losers in New Jersey's battle to ban smoking indoors.

Although acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed a law Sunday banning smoking in bars, restaurants and most other indoor public places, the rule excludes casino gambling areas. Rennich, a casino table games supervisor, has lung cancer he blames on 25 years of inhaling secondhand smoke.

"A good majority of the time, I'm surrounded in a cloud of smoke," said Rennich, 47, who doesn't smoke. "Even if it's a no-smoking table, it doesn't help. The way the smoke blows or drifts, you can only go so far. It'll find you."

For Angeloni, owner of Angeloni's II, an Italian restaurant two blocks off the casino strip, the casino exemption is a matter of dollars and cents. Customers won't be able to smoke at his tables or bar, but they will be at the city's dozen casinos.

"It's going to kill me, I know it is," Angeloni said Wednesday. "Do you know how many conventioneers eat here and come out to the bar to smoke afterward? You can kiss them goodbye, now. They won't even leave the casino."

The ban, scheduled to take effect April 15, makes New Jersey the 11th state in the nation to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars, according to the American Cancer Society.

Hundreds of individual cities and counties around the country also ban smoking in workplaces, restaurants or bars.

Chicago joins them Monday, when a ban on smoking in public places goes into effect, but the law gives taverns and restaurant bars in the city until 2008 to comply.

New Jersey exempted gambling areas at the request of Atlantic City's $5 billion-a-year casino industry, which said a total smoking ban would cause losses in profits, state tax revenues and jobs.

"What this is all about is government willing to not protect the health and welfare of their own citizens," said casino industry critic Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "In New Jersey's case, they want to keep the gambling proceeds there, so let `em smoke."

New Jersey's law is the first in the nation that explicitly excludes gambling areas, although other states' bans do not have jurisdiction over Indian tribe casinos, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

Atlantic City's gambling halls employ about 48,000 people, and the state's 8 percent tax on casino revenue netted $401 million last year for programs benefiting senior citizens and the disabled.

Lawmakers and anti-smoking advocates say the measure would not have passed the Legislature without the casino exemption.

"Two years ago, I couldn't get this bill considered in either house," said state Sen. John H. Adler. "I thought that that was as much as we could get, and the governor concluded the same thing."

"We had a choice of protecting 98 percent of the people, or zero, and it was an easy choice," said Regina Carlson, executive director for New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution.

The New Jersey Restaurant Association calls the ban discriminatory because of the casino exemption and plans to file suit asking a federal judge to block its enforcement.

"It should either be everybody or nobody," said John Exabaktilos, owner of the Ducktown Tavern, about a block from the casino strip. "I took a rundown restaurant and built it up and now the state wants to tell me I have to tell my customers they can't smoke? It's just another thing that gives the casinos an advantage."

Some casino workers disagree about that advantage.

"On a daily basis, we breathe secondhand smoke three or four feet from our nose," said casino dealer Al DeSimone, 43. "We can't move side to side, we can't move away, we're stuck there. It's unhealthy."