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Atlantic City: Slots of Fun? Not Quite

John Deiner

Cough, cough. Hack, hack. Oh, sorry. Just got back from a weekend in Atlantic City, whose casino floors looked like San Francisco on a foggy morning. Actually, it was just the poor ventilation, low ceilings and mobs gathered around the slot machines. And the 1.3 million smokers on each casino floor.

Not gonna debate smoking here. I don't smoke myself, and I hate it on my clothes, and in my eyes, and in my pores, and it's generally gross. Oh, I guess I am going to debate it here. But I'm not alone.

Atlantic City residents are engaged in a struggle right now over the future of smoking in the casinos. Just last week, the City Council passed an amended ordinance that would allow smoking on one-fourth of the casino floors, much to the dismay of anti-smoking activists and casino workers. The previous plan had been to completely abolish it. If the ordinance is passed on a final vote Feb. 7, the casinos must enclose and properly ventilate 25 percent of their floors for smokers.

Sounds like a reasonable compromise to me, though I would have opted for the total ban. But it does seem like it could lead to some tension in the casinos, which, after an incident I witnessed this weekend, gives me the willies.

I was at Harrah's Marina -- which, incidentally, is just about as close to a Vegas experience as you're going to find in AC these days -- playing 10 cents at a time in a penny slot (yes, pennies, and I broke even, thank you for asking). Suddenly, a huge argument broke out between an old woman and a burly middle-aged guy. Seems the guy's girlfriend/wife/whatever was sitting in front of a slot machine watching the guy play, and not playing herself. The place was packed, and the old woman wanted the seat. He starts screaming, "Wah, wah, wah . . . stop crying and leave us alone." You can insert multiple expletives in there. He announced to the crowd that he had lost $100 in the machine so he was in effect paying for the seat next to his.

That's 10,000 pennies folks. I would have left 9,500 pennies earlier.

Security was called, though order was restored only after another person gave up her seat for the old woman. But there was a creepy vibe in the air afterward. It was the ugliest display I've ever seen in a casino, and one of the stupidest.

Maybe it's a good thing that smoking may not be banned completely. How ugly would it get in AC if people had to do without nicotine???

By John Deiner |  January 29, 2007; 1:25 PM ET  | Category:  John Deiner , Mid-Atlantic Destinations
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Interestingly, I heard that the new "smoking areas" will only be the salons/high-roller areas. Seems they don't want the whales to take a smoke break and realize how much they're losing.

Posted by: Jeff | January 29, 2007 2:14 PM

Harrah's Marina used to be the closest thing to Vegas in AC. Now Borgata is the most Vegas-y casino. Still pales in comparison to the real thing, but at least they're trying.

Posted by: Ron Burgundy | January 29, 2007 2:50 PM

My wife and I went to the casino's in St. Louis a few months back. I am not kidding when I say you had to take a knife out and cut your way through the smoke. We lasted about 30 minutes there before we had to leave. I was funny, though, to see people sound asleep at slots as a way to keep their seat!

Posted by: Mike | January 29, 2007 3:38 PM

As a former (college tuition paying) employee of Harvey's Casino in Lake Tahoe, I can tell you that nauseating, wretched cigarette smoke is only one of the many hideous attributes of casino patrons and employees. These places give the term loser new meaning.

Posted by: Norman D. | January 30, 2007 1:54 PM

It's amazing as you grow older how things become more clear, or hazy as most casino goers have experienced.
I think I experience the same thing when I play Texas hold em with my buddies "at a location near you".
As a restaurant employee in Northern Va. I have even written to the governor of Va. expressing my views on the subject of a smoking ban in public places. Why Not!?
We the healthy shouldn't have to put up with the toxic noxious smoke that these weak minded individuals insist on making us non smokers inhale at restaurants, casino's etc. I smoked when I was younger, but quit when I realized what a nuisance and danger to mine and everyone else's health.

Posted by: Keith | January 31, 2007 3:44 PM

I don't smoke. But cigs are part of the casino experience. If it bothers you, don't go.

What is next, banning drinks? And BTW, you don't get out much -- there was a notorious incident at Binion's a few years ago where security was taped using a cattle prod on a suspected cheater, and a disgruntled gambler shot a heckler after losing at craps.

Posted by: RL | January 31, 2007 7:30 PM

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