It was just past 5:30 p.m., usually the height of happy hour at Uncle Jed's Roadhouse, and owner Alan Emery was playing football on the new PlayStation he bought to attract customers. The bartender offered him a drink, since there was no one else in his Bethesda sports bar to serve.

To prepare for Montgomery County's ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which went into effect Oct. 9, Emery also installed a big video screen, angled so that patrons on the patio could drink beer, eat hot wings, watch TV and light up legally. But on this early Wednesday evening, there was but one customer.

"We're getting crushed," said Emery, who has laid off a manager and a cook. "It's just awful."

Uncle Jed's isn't always so deserted. But Emery and many other proprietors say the law threatens to put them out of business as smokers flee for the District or areas of the county not covered by the prohibition.

Although large, family-style chains have been relatively unhurt by the ban, smaller establishments have seen total sales decline by an average of 30 percent during the week and 50 percent on weekends, according to Melvin Thompson, vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, a food service industry trade group.

He says that business is expected to deteriorate further and that many of the group's smaller members don't believe they can hold on through the end of the year.

"Within the next couple of months it's going to get worse because customers are going to stake out new places," Thompson said.

Some of those places are in Rockville, Gaithersburg and the county's other incorporated municipalities not covered by the ban. Although several of the cities are debating whether to adopt the law, for the moment they are sanctuaries for the county's refugee smokers.

The Orange Ball Billiards Cafe, in the heart of Rockville, was packed at 10:30 on a recent weeknight, boasting what the industry calls "depth": columns of people two or three deep vying to reach the bar.

But general manager Fred Knox thinks the smoking ban's extension to Rockville is inevitable. "It's just a bump in sales before they pass the law and it affects us," said Knox, who in the meantime has registered eight new billiards teams at the cafe.

Less than three miles away in unincorporated Montgomery, Champion Billiards Sports Cafe was another story. A lively crowd ringed the bar, but an entire section of pool tables was empty.

Business was still brisk at the cigarette machine, however, and bartenders turned a blind eye as several customers lighted up in violation of the ban. The restaurant has already received a citation, said director of operations Gary Allen, who noted that servers do their best to enforce the law.

Montgomery County's Health and Human Services Department has assigned food service inspectors to enforce the ban. Citations, which can be given to restaurants and patrons, are $50 for a first violation and $75 for the second. After that, an offending establishment could face a three-day suspension of its license.

County officials say they only intend to cite the most flagrant violators. So far, they have issued just the one citation.

Critics of the ban say that few new nonsmokers are patronizing bars and restaurants and that those who do are spending less time and money than their smoking counterparts.

"The elderly and the family people, they are not going to go out to a bar late at night. They are not the group of people who sit here for hours and hours," said Veronika Farkas, 27, a bartender at Clyde's of Chevy Chase. She added that she is still waiting to see the customers who promised her that the ban would prompt them to frequent the bar more often.

"Where are those droves of customers who want to come? Our operators would love to see them right now," Thompson said.

Bars and restaurants aren't the only ones feeling the law's pinch. Montgomery receives $20 million a year in tax revenue from the sales of beer, wine and liquor. Sales thus far in November are down 4 percent from last year, according to Gus Montes de Oca, chief of operations for the county's Department of Liquor Control; draft beer sales are down about 20 percent. "If the month continues the way it is, it's bound to hurt us," he said.

Proponents of the ban are generally pleased that the county has elected to join Delaware, New York, California and other jurisdictions in the smokeless age. They say the law will protect thousands of restaurant patrons and employees from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.

They do, however, have one complaint: hordes of smokers in establishments that still permit it. Joyce Eastman, 35, recently attended a wedding rehearsal dinner at a steakhouse in Gaithersburg. "It's always smoky, but it was more so than usual," she said, adding that she tries to avoid places where smoking is permitted. She said she looks forward to the law's enactment in the remainder of the county.

So does Emery. He said he'll have to close Uncle Jed's if the ban is not extended. He hates the idea of wishing hard times on other businesses, but, he said, he needs a level playing field. "I'm sitting here hoping someone else gets put in my shoes so that I can survive," he said.

Meanwhile Julie Johnson, 24, one of his bartenders, recently moved out of her Silver Spring apartment and onto a friend's couch. "I'm just not making enough to pay my bills," said Johnson, who added that the law has created another indignity: chasing after customers who duck outside for a smoke and leave behind their tabs.

She said her average day's tips used to be $70; now, she's earning less than $20.

Johnson is looking for another job{ndash}outside Montgomery County.

"I would rather be making the money than not making money because people can't smoke," she said.

"No one's going to sit and watch football where they can't smoke."

Bartender Lauren Goldstein of Uncle Jed's says the ban has cut her income by nearly half.At Uncle Jed's Roadhouse, Neil Donahue, 24, of the District has lots of elbow room while shooting pool. A smoker, Donahue says he comes to the sports bar less often since the county ban went into effect about five weeks ago.