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Suspended smoking ban didn’t help casinos in November

Lifting Atlantic City's full casino smoking ban last month wasn't enough to lift the town's sagging fortunes.

Lifting Atlantic City's full casino smoking ban last month wasn't enough to lift the town's sagging fortunes.

The seaside resort's 11 casinos reported $345.5 million in revenue for November, down 7.8 percent from the same month a year ago.

Figures released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission today showed that Atlantic City's casinos won $228.4 million, or 66 percent of last month's revenue, from slot machines. The rest, $117.1 million, came from table games.

For the first 11 months of the year, total revenue was down 6.7 percent from the same period in 2007, to $4.2 billion.

The nation's No.1 gaming market, Las Vegas, fared even worse.

Las Vegas Strip gaming revenue declined for the 10th straight month in October to $475 million, down 25.8 percent, from the same month a year ago.

For Atlantic City, the emergence of Pennsylvania slots parlors has taken a bite out of its revenue base. The seven Pennsylvania casinos generated $131.2 million last month.

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, the seven slots parlors in Pennsylvania reported $1.5 billion in gross slots revenue. The state does not allow dealer-staffed table games.

Pennsylvania has a 55 percent tax on gross slots revenue, compared with New Jersey's tax of 9.25 percent. The gaming tax revenue in both states goes to finance various government programs.

The dismal economy and intensified regional slots competition were among reasons cited by Atlantic City casino operators to lift a full smoking ban that was put into effect Oct. 15, which required patrons who smoke to do so in specially built lounges.

Atlantic City operators argued they would lose further business to Pennsylvania casinos, which allow smoking. Atlantic City Council held a special session Oct. 27 and voted, 5-4, to delay the ban at least a year.

"The lounges were nice for socializing, but you were isolated," said Subash Arora, 58, an anesthesiologist from Scranton, as he played a quarter slot machine and puffed on a cigar at Caesars this week. "Smokers aren't going to give up smoking. I know this."

Still, despite the ban's delay Nov. 16, last month's revenue numbers were disappointing.

Nine of the 11 casinos reported revenue declines, ranging from 30.1 percent at the Atlantic City Hilton, to 0.1 percent at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Only Caesars and Harrah's Resort casinos - both owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas - were up, showing monthly revenue increases of 8.5 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively.