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July 28, 2014

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CityCenter’s Aria to protect blackjack dealers from smoke

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A view of MGM Mirage’s Aria as seen from the Panorama Towers in February.

CityCenter Construction

MGM Mirage's $9 billion CityCenter project, encompassing seven buildings, continues rising Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Go ahead, blow smoke in your blackjack dealer’s face. If you’re playing at the soon-to-open Aria at CityCenter, they will hardly notice.

That’s because Aria’s blackjack tables will be equipped with an air curtain that shoots straight up from the table, dividing dealer and players.

That’s the next-to-best thing Aria could do to protect dealers’ health, aside from not allowing smoking in the casino, said Cindy Ortega, senior vice president of energy and environmental services for MGM Mirage, an owner of CityCenter.

“I can take three matches, light up the matches, blow them out, and I put the match right there and the smoke goes right straight up,” she said. “The air curtain is there to protect the dealer from the smoke. Now, it’s not 100 percent (as good) as a nonsmoker, but I think we’ve taken such giant leaps. I think it’s really great.”

Since smokers and their cigarettes are welcomed, MGM Mirage sought a way to make the tobacco-infused air more tolerable for its workers.

The air curtain sounds like a good addition to the gaming floor, said Joe Carbon, head of the gaming division for Transport Workers Union Local 721.

“If you have four or five players blowing smoke in your face, it’s not a good deal,” he said. He hadn’t heard of the air curtain table, but from the sound of it, it “would be a good idea.”

Local 721 represents dealers at Caesars and Wynn and is not involved in a lawsuit between a retired Caesars dealer and parent company Harrah’s Entertainment, in which the dealer is suing because she claims the secondhand smoke affected her health.

The lawsuit is based on the plaintiff’s claim that Caesars didn’t do enough to protect its employees from secondhand smoke, the Sun reported.

Before Carbon came to Las Vegas, he said he had heard of some casinos that had air racks — devices that blew smoky air away from dealers. But he thinks those are long gone, he said.

The union has during negotiations asked management to create smoking and nonsmoking gaming areas, allowing both the customer and dealer to choose where they play or work.

CityCenter, including Aria, was designed to U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, Ortega said.

“It’s not whether smoking is allowed, it has to do with how the air is treated in a LEED building,” she said.

For LEED certification, it’s not how air is handled, but how the air is ventilated, Ortega said. As long as the area where smoking is permitted is ventilated separately from the nonsmoking areas, and the air intakes aren’t near an exit or exhaust area, the building can receive the coveted green designation, she said.

Smoking is allowed at Aria, she said, but there are designated pathways for nonsmokers that are buffered by 25 feet of nonsmoking space on both sides. It is also possible to move from one end of Aria to the other without going through the casino, thus avoiding the secondhand smoke, she said.

“Our target is sustainability,” she said. MGM wanted to allow guests to smoke if they wanted, but not affect nonsmokers.

“So we came out with what I call the clean-air strategy. The clean-air strategy is (to) make the best air possible for everybody.”

The casino went “one gigantic step forward” and invested in a displacement floor, Ortega said.

At Aria air will be piped down under the floor that was designed with holes throughout. The cooled air then rises from small holes in the floor through the carpet.

“Everything rises — that’s your smoke, those are your sneezes, those are everything, it’s rising up if you’re in the casino,” Ortega said. “There’s this big dead empty space at the top — it’s a high ceiling.”

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