New Jersey casinos get a pass on U.S. state's new smoking ban

New Jersey will become the 11th U.S. state to prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars and most other indoor public places _ with the exception of casino gambling areas. Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey on Sunday signed the law which is scheduled to take effect April 15. Smoking is already outlawed in New Jersey government buildings, and many private businesses restrict smoking.

Hundreds of individual cities and counties around the U.S. 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 (Ђ4.15 billion-a-year) casino industry, which said a total smoking ban would cause losses in profits, state tax revenues and jobs. However, not everybody is looking forward to the new smoking ban.

For Angeloni, owner of Angeloni's II, an Italian restaurant two blocks off the casino strip, the casino exemption is a matter of dollars (euros) and cents. Customers won't be able to smoke at his tables or bar, but they will be at the city's dozen casinos. Rennich, a casino table games supervisor, has lung cancer he blames on 25 years of inhaling secondhand 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 (Ђ333 million) last year for programs benefiting senior citizens and the disabled, the AP reported.

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