ATLANTIC CITY - After nearly two hours of impassioned testimony - from a diverse group that included second graders, casino workers, health experts, and civil right advocates - on the dangers of secondhand smoke, the Atlantic City Council last night approved a partial ban on smoking in the city's 12 gambling halls.

The ordinance, however, is one that may ultimately not make anyone happy.

Casinos will now be required to curb the smoking behavior of some of their patrons while spending tens of thousands of dollars to create separate smoking areas - measures they had fought against, fearing a loss of business to some neighboring states where smoking and gaming still go hand in hand.

At the same time, advocates of creating completely smoke-free casinos say that allowing smoking in 25 percent of the casino's floor area won't adequately protect the city's 41,000 casino workers from the toxins created by secondhand smoke.

In Rhode Island, where a similar plan is in place allowing smoking in only designated areas of casinos, the levels of toxins in the air are five times the maximum allowable exposures recommended by the government, according to Regina Carlson, executive director of New Jersey GASP, an antismoking group.

"This ordinance should be all or nothing," Carlson told City Council. "It will not work otherwise."

The measure passed on a 6-3 vote - but not before many of the people in the audience of more than 300 who jammed the City Council chambers got their say.

The majority of them were advocates of making the casinos smoke-free. Many wore bright orange T-shirts screaming the antismoking messages, while others held up homemade signs that read, "100% or Nothing."

Children tearfully told of how their parents are forced to work in the smoky casinos to provide for their families, while adults literally pleaded with council members to make the casinos completely smoke free.

Each bit of testimony was met with rounds of applause and cheers from the crowd. Only one man, a casino boss, who said he thought the compromise was fair, was jeered.

The ordinance overrides a state law exempting casinos from a statewide ban on smoking in indoor public places that went into effect last year. Instead, the new law will make 75 percent of a gaming floor smoke free. It goes into effect April 15, exactly one year after the statewide ban was instituted.

The casinos will be required to submit construction plans within the next several weeks indicating how they plan to comply with the measure by enclosing, floor to ceiling, designated smoking areas.

The Casino Association of New Jersey and other gaming interests, however, say a full casino smoking ban would have cut into gaming hall revenues by as much as 20 percent and forced casinos to lay off as many as 3,400 workers.

After first proposing to ban all cigarette smoking in the casinos last fall, City Council members said yesterday that they were forced to create a compromise to prevent a possible legal challenge from the casinos.

"I think we ultimately did the best we could and I am happy with the ordinance," said Councilman Dennis Mason, who proposed the partial ban. "It's still better than allowing smoking in all the areas of casinos."

Councilmen William Marsh and Eugene Robinson last fall proposed a 100 percent ban on casino smoking, saying that workers in the gaming halls deserve the same protections as workers in other industries.

Last night, Marsh voted for the partial ban, while Robinson voted against it, saying the ordinance wasn't strong enough.

Advocates of a complete smoking ban, in their pleas to City Council last night, hinted that legal challenges from unions and supporters of casino workers could be in the offing.

And Councilman G. Bruce Ward, who said he was in favor of tabling last night's ordinance and pursuing a more strongly worded one - and ultimately voted against it - agreed calling the measure "legally flawed."

"What we have done is place ourselves as a punitive defendant in a class-action suit by saying that these workers aren't entitled to the same protections that everyone else in the state is," Ward said. "We are setting ourselves up for a legal battle where we will be the defendant, not the state, and we will be the losers."

Some casino workers said they felt they had been sold out by last night's vote. Casino workers, according to the ordinance, will voluntarily decide whether to work in the designated smoking sections.

"We're all going to lose our jobs because, who is going to want to work in that environment?" said Jennifer Guillermain, of Somers Point, a floor supervisor at Caesars Atlantic City. "Who is going to want to subject themselves to getting lung cancer?"

Casino Association president Joseph A. Corbo Jr. did not speak at last night's hearing, but in a written statement last month, he called the compromise "a better balance" that would result in fewer layoffs and significantly smaller effect on the casino's bottom lines.

Smoking in N.J.

New Jersey has America's highest state cigarette tax, at $2.58 a pack.

A pack of Marlboros costs $5.96 at Wawa.

In New Jersey, 18.1 percent of adults are smokers. In the U.S., 20.9 percent smoke. In Pennsylvania, 23.7 percent smoke.

Surveys from Dover Downs in Delaware show that half of the slots parlor customers there smoke. A University of Nevada study recently found that 21.5 percent of Nevada gamblers were smokers.

The New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act bans smoking in indoor public places and workplaces. The few exemptions include certain tobacco bars and businesses, casinos with at least 150 stand-alone slot machines, 10 table games or some combination, and private homes and automobiles. Hotels and motels may permit smoking in up to 20 percent of guest rooms.

Twenty-two states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., ban smoking in public places.

In Atlantic County, lung cancer causes 27 percent of cancer deaths – the leading cause of cancer death.

An estimated 4,380 people in New Jersey will die of lung cancer in 2007.

SOURCES: American Cancer Society, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, U.S. Centers for Disease ControlEndText

Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-823-9629 or jurgo@phillynews.com.