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Chris Jones

Smoking Still Allowed in Westin Casino Floor

6 December 2005

LAS VEGAS -- A major hotel chain's plan to ban smoking at many of its North American resorts received a warm welcome Monday from antismoking advocates.

But the pending policy change at more than 70 Westin Hotels & Resorts won't force its Las Vegas patrons to squash their cigarette butts -- as long as those smokers' butts remain firmly planted on the casino floor, sources said.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide said all of its 77 Westin Hotels & Resorts in the United States, Canada and Caribbean will ban smoking in guest rooms and public areas beginning Jan. 1. Eight already have similar bans in place.

Customer feedback shows most guests prefer a smoke-free environment, said the White Plains, N.Y.-based hotelier.

Smokers' only loopholes will soon be designated outdoor smoking areas, or within leased space where operators allow smoking. And there's the rub, at least as far as Las Vegas is concerned.

Though the hotel and casino share the same owner -- Fort Mitchell, Ky.-based hotel conglomerate Columbia Sussex, controlled by the Yung family -- The Westin at 160 E. Flamingo Road leases its 20,000-square-foot casino to an operator called Wimar Horizon.

Because that company is separate from Westin Hotels, it will continue to allow smoking as casino customers demand.

"The trend nationwide is toward a nonsmoking environment, but we know that trend is everywhere but in Las Vegas," Sig Ortloff, general manager of The Westin, said Monday.

Smoking will be banned in the property's lobby, meeting areas, hotel rooms and restaurants, Ortloff said. He said a few casino tables near the hotel lobby will also be smoke-free.

Only 10 percent of the hotel's 825 rooms allow smoking, so next month's change should have minimal effect on the resort, he added.

Guests caught smoking in a nonsmoking room are now subject to a $35-per-stay "cleaning fee," Ortloff said. But Westin senior Vice President Sue Brush told The Associated Press fines will soon increase to $200.

The chain's 2,400 smoking rooms are undergoing deep cleaning and air purifying before the Jan. 1 changeover, "and once you smoke in there you've violated that entire environment, and we have to clean it all over again," she said.

Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, praised Starwood for being "far ahead of the curve" as many U.S. cities adopt tougher smoking prohibitions.

Westin's policy was also praised by Cindy Roragen, executive director of the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, who said second-hand smoke is a health risk that annoys hotel-casino customers and workers.

Southern Nevada casinos have previously banned smoking, albeit with mixed results. The Silver City, which closed in 1999, banned cigarettes for nearly three years before declining revenue led the Strip gambling hall to ditch the ban.

Separately, Harrah's Entertainment has banned smoking at one of its two Harrah's Laughlin casino areas since the resort opened in 1988. That policy will continue, a Harrah's spokesman said Monday.

Starwood's decision will not affect Harrah's policy of providing smoking and nonsmoking rooms, he added. An MGM Mirage spokesman also said it will continue to offer smoking and nonsmoking areas to its guests.