Pool Hall's Challenge Of Smoking Ban Fails

The state Court of Appeals put a damper on a Guilford County pool hall owner's attempt to get around the state's ban on smoking cigarettes in restaurants and bars.

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that he failed to prove his narrow argument that he was being denied his 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, which allows smoking cigarettes in not-for-profit clubs but not in for-profit clubs. But the panel did not rule on the larger issue of whether such a ban is constitutional.

Don Liebes, owner of the Gate City Billiards Country Club in southwest Greensboro, tried to bypass the smoking cigarettes ban by declaring his business a private country club - when there was talk in the drafting stages of not applying the law to country clubs.

Instead lawmakers focused on the difference between not-for-profit and for-profit clubs.

Liebes' attorneys have argued that the law, put into effect in January 2010, violates the pool hall owner's rights by exempting nonprofit private clubs from the restriction but making it apply to for-profit private clubs.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, for example, may smoke cigarettes inside their private club posts. As may anyone at Elks, Moose and other private lodges, under the law. Nonprofit country clubs can permit indoor smoking cigarettes if they choose.

But for-profit private clubs - whether golf, billiards or some other game is the draw - must prohibit smoking cigarettes indoors, under the state statute.

Liebes has invested more than $10,000 in his legal fight.

His attorneys argued that lawmakers went beyond their constitutional bounds when they drew a line between for-profit and not-for-profit private clubs.

But the appeals court panel said the pool hall owner failed to prove his case.

A Pitt County bar has challenged the same law on its constitutional basis. Though that case has not been decided, the outcome could have an effect on Liebes' business.