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PhillyPark to double casino-floor smoking area

To puff or not to puff.

To puff or not to puff.

Casinos in Pennsylvania are weighing whether to give more space to gamblers who love to smoke.

PhiladelphiaPark Casino in Bensalem announced today that it would become the first casino in the state to double the smoking area to one-half of its casino floor. Under the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, PhiladelphiaPark and six other casinos are allowed smoking on at least a quarter of their casino floors.

PhiladelphiaPark's president said the casino received a report Friday from the state Department of Revenue that showed patron wagering in the casino's smoking area exceeded that of the nonsmoking area more than 21/2 times during the last 90 days - enough under the new law to justify the smoking change.

"The demand is just overwhelming," casino president Dave Jonas said today.

Under the Clean Indoor Air Act, a casino can increase the size of its smoking area in proportion to the difference of revenue between smoking and nonsmoking areas, to a maximum of 50 percent.

Atlantic City casinos, fearing a loss of business, lifted a total smoking ban last month. For at least the next year, smoking is allowed on 25 percent of the casino floors there.

But Jonas said the seaside resort's move had nothing to do with PhillyPark's decision.

"This was in the works," he said. "This has to do with the great legislation in Pennsylvania," Jonas said in a reference to the Clean Indoor Air Act. "We are a big tax base in Pennsylvania, and there is a big demand for gambling and for smokers who want to gamble."

Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act passed in June and was implemented Sept. 11. The law prohibited smoking in most workplaces, but made numerous exceptions, which included bars, tobacco shops, casinos and hotels.

PhiladelphiaPark grossed $27.4 million in slots revenue last month, the most among the state's seven casinos.

Its owner is building a bigger facility that is scheduled to open in late fall 2009, with 30 percent more slot machines. The current 100,000-square-foot casino has 2,912 slots.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which monitors the state's gambling industry, said the other six casinos had requested similar reports from the Department of Revenue showing the revenue for smoking and nonsmoking areas.

Health advocates denounced the move today.

"It's a shame that PhiladelphiaPark sees fit to gamble with the lives of their employees and their patrons on a limited piece of intel that only gives part of the picture," said Michele H. Gallagher, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, which lobbied alongside other public health organizations and casino workers this year for a full smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos. "They should be concentrating on saving their employees and patrons from the fatal effects of secondhand smoke - not wagering on a plan that will eventually go up in smoke."