12/06/2006 12:00AM

Controversial smoking ban contested

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Visiting Las Vegas is great, and from my point of view, living here is even better.

There are major events happening all the time and there is always something to do. It's truly the city that never sleeps as the casinos are open 24/7 and if you're looking for a party, you can find one. There is also a live-and-let-live philosophy that is very appealing. There is also the perception - perpetuated by the "What happens here, stays here" slogan - that anything goes in Vegas.

But while most of this is true, it's not as extreme as many outsiders think. For example, a lot of people think prostitution is legal in Las Vegas, and that's just not true. It is legal in Nevada counties with fewer than 400,000 residents, but that rules out Clark County (where Vegas is located) and Washoe County (which includes Reno).

As for other vices, it has pretty much been legal to drink and smoke anywhere and at any time you want - at all casinos and a lot of bars, there is no "last call," and there is no "open-container law" in the resort areas - and the no-smoking areas have traditionally been few and far between, but times they are a-changing.

The drinking appears safe for now, but a new non-smoking law is set to go into effect on Friday. In the November elections, voters were given two choices on the ballot to ban smoking in public. One, labeled Question 4, called for no smoking in restaurants but allowed an exemption for casinos and bars that served food, while Question 5 was more restrictive and also banned smoking from grocery and convenience stores as well as bars that served food.

Both passed, but it was mandated that the one with the most votes would be the one to go into law, and that was Question 5, which was renamed the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act and was slated to take effect on Dec. 8.

The backlash came after the elections when it was determined that a lot of bar and grills would either have to ban smoking or stop serving food. It was also seen as unfair that these businesses would be at a competitive disadvantage vs. similar establishments that are part of casinos or have more slot machines (Big Gaming gets all the breaks here, if you didn't know).

Part of the problem is that the ballot questions were poorly worded and a lot of people couldn't tell the difference between the two. Another issue is that the way it was written, most people, including legal experts, say the law is unclear as to how it would be enforced.

Many people have spoken up after the fact that there should have been a third alternative that allowed smoking at over-21 businesses such as bar and grills while banning smoking at supposedly family-friendly places like the grocery and convenience stores. My wife, for instance, said she voted for Question 5 by default because she doesn't want to expose the kids to a smoky environment when simply going grocery shopping but felt it was unfair that she was also voting against bars where she wouldn't be taking the children.

There is usually opposition to change, and this time is no different. On Tuesday, a group of 20 local businesses filed a lawsuit with the District Court to get a temporary restraining order or an injunction to stop the law from being implemented. The petition calls the law "impermissibly vague" and a violation of the plaintiffs' due process.

Judge Douglas Herndon was expected to make a ruling by Friday's implementation day.

So, if you're in town this weekend for the rodeo or other activities and wander off the Strip to eat, you might have to check your cigarettes at the door along with your coat.

Personally, I don't smoke, but the mere fact that this is possibly becoming a law is a step back for the liberal lifestyle that most of us have come to expect in Las Vegas. We've already lost the opportunity to get a marriage license at any time of the day as the Marriage License Bureau is no longer open 24/7, even on weekends. Again, that's not a rule that affects me personally, but any limits in freedom should be discouraged. A slogan "What happens here is only okay if it's not against our increasingly puritanical laws" isn't as appealing.

Future odds update

The future-book odds on who will win the BCS title game are off the board as it's down to just Ohio State and Florida for the Jan. 8 game in Glendale, Ariz., but the price on those two teams can obviously be bet on the money line. The MGM Mirage properties and the Las Vegas Hilton have Ohio State as a -280 choice (risk $2.80 for every $1 you want to profit), the best price available for the favored Buckeyes. The best price on Florida is +250 (win $2.50 for every $1 wagered) at Wynn Las Vegas.

* As for an update on future-book odds that are a little more in the future and with many more choices, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Colts as the 5-2 favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Chargers are the second choice at 13-5. The Bears, who despite their inconsistent play at the quarterback position with Rex Grossman will have home-field advantage in the NFC, are 7-2. The Cowboys have been getting a lot of support lately and are down to 4-1. Other top contenders include the Ravens and Patriots at 6-1, the Seahawks at 10-1, and the Saints at 12-1.

* The college basketball season has been off to an exciting start with a lot of upsets already, yet the odds for defending champion Florida are 4-1 despite two losses, with North Carolina and Ohio State at 6-1, Kansas at 7-1, and Duke at 10-1. Undefeated and No. 1-ranked UCLA is still at 12-1, down from an opening number of 18-1.

* The Spurs have been lowered from 9-2 to 5-2 to win the NBA title, with the Mavericks at 3-1, the Suns at 4-1, the Pistons at 6-1, and the Cavaliers and defending champion Heat (playing below .500 ball) at 8-1.

* Baseball seems far away, but it's just about two months to spring training. Per usual, the Yankees are the World Series favorites at 4-1, with the Mets at 11-2, the White Sox, Tigers, and Dodgers at 10-1, the Red Sox at 12-1, and the defending champion Cardinals at 14-1.