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LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- A dealer who spent two decades at Caesars Palace has sued the Strip resort and parent company Harrah's Entertainment in federal court claiming that exposure to secondhand smoke forced her to quit her casino job.
In a lawsuit that attorneys are seeking to have certified as a class action case, former blackjack dealer Tomo Stephens claimed Caesars Palace isn't doing enough to protect its workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, contends Caesars Palace, since being acquired by Harrah's in 2005, has removed nonsmoking gaming areas from the casino floor, forbids employees from designating certain gaming tables as smoke-free and encourages smoking among its customers.
"The point of this lawsuit is not to ban smoking in casinos," said Jay Edelson, a Chicago-based attorney who filed the action. "The real goal is to change what they're doing. At least offer areas that are nonsmoking where employees can circle in and out. We are not trying to stop smokers from gambling."
The lawsuit claims that Caesars Palace participated in a multiyear investigation by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health that assessed the levels of second-hand smoke in three casinos.
The study found that chemicals associated with second-hand smoke exist both on casino floors and in the bloodstreams of casino employees.
"We are not asking that Caesar's Palace become smoke-free," Edelson said. "They must take steps to protect the health of their employees. That's reasonable and it's humane."
According to the lawsuit, Stephens suffered exposure to secondhand smoke during her career at Caesars and was forced to quit her job in June. A physician discovered pre-cancerous cells in her stomach and told her that continued exposure to secondhand smoke could aggravate her condition.
Stephens resigned when Caesars would not provide her with employment in a nonsmoking area of the casino.
The lawsuit claimed Stephens was not given any severance and she is in danger of losing her home to foreclosure because she is unable to work.
"She wasn't even given a sympathy call after informing Caesars of her need to resign," Edelson said.
The lawsuit is asking that Caesars Palace take steps to protect its employees, including installing ventilation systems that minimize secondhand smoke, designate certain casino areas as nonsmoking and accommodate employees adversely affected by secondhand smoke.
Harrah's spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson wouldn't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. She did say the poker room at Caesars Palace is designated as nonsmoking.
The combination of smoking and gambling took a hit two years ago when Nevada voters approved a ballot initiative that banned smoking in restaurants, taverns and other locations where food is served. The initiative's passage, however, sent many gamblers to casinos because their gaming areas were not affected by the new law.
Slot machine route operators and tavern owners have said the smoking ban has damaged their revenues. During the recent legislative session, bar owners testified they lost 20 percent of their business and have been forced to lay off employees because of the smoking prohibition.
Last year, Atlantic City leaders halted smoking in casinos for several weeks, but overturned the ban when casino operators and customers complained. Atlantic City casinos permit smoking on no more than 25 percent of their gaming floors.
A 2008 ban on smoking in Colorado casinos was blamed by operators for reducing gaming revenues.
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