A New Jersey smoking ban loophole is closer to closing at Atlantic City casinos. Lawmakers discussed the matter on March 9.
On Thursday, the New Jersey General Assembly Health Committee (AHC) and the Assembly Tourism, Gaming, and Arts Committee (ATGA) jointly held a public hearing. More than a dozen speakers at the hearing spoke in favor of banning smoking in New Jersey casinos.
Additionally, several healthcare and anti-smoking groups back the proposed smoking ban. Organizations of note include the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK),
Additionally, a majority of Assembly committee members publicly support the no-smoking push.
Legal Loophole Allows New Jersey Casinos to Permit Smoking
Legislation banning smoking in bars, restaurants, saloons, markets, and shopping centers in New Jersey was passed in 2006.
However, language in the Smoke-Free Air Act left state casinos free to allow smoking throughout their properties.
As a result, casinos and gaming rooms are the only public spaces in New Jersey where smoking remains legal.
In April 2022, on the 16th anniversary of the law that banned smoking everywhere but casinos, hundreds of casino workers rallied to ban smoking in their workplaces.
At the event, Nicole Vitola – a Borgata Hotel, Casino, and Spa dealer and anti-smoking advocate – spoke about the toll smoking has on casino workers.
It is galling, she said, to see friends fall ill because casinos lack the same protection as other industries.
It’s been 16 years of cancer diagnoses, 16 years of watching our beloved co-workers die …We keep hearing, ‘Now is not the time.’ When is it going to be the right time to care?
New Jersey Smoking Ban Bills Gain Traction With Lawmakers
As it turns out, the right time might be right now.
Two bills (S264 and A2151) aim to close the legislative loophole. And should either bill reach his desk, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has committed to signing the legislation into law.
Notably, according to CBS Philadelphia, most members of the AHC and ATGA committees agree on banning smoking in New Jersey casinos.
Cynthia Hallet, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, recently lauded the backing:
With overwhelming support for the bill in both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, it’s clear that the time has come to protect casino workers and end indoor smoking in casinos.
New Jersey lawmakers have heard time and again about the detrimental and life-threatening health implications of indoor smoking, and they should act quickly to pass this essential piece of legislation. It’s time to hold a vote.
In addition to the ACS and CTFK, groups who also believe now is the right time include:
- American Lung Association
- National Council on Problem Gambling
- American Heart Association
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- UFCW Local 152
AC Casino Workers Testify in Support of Smoking Ban
At the March 9 hearing, representatives for New Jersey casino workers supported the proposed change to the Smoke-Free Air Act.
Tammy Brady started working as an Atlantic City casino dealer at 18. Today, at 55, Brady has Stage 2 breast cancer.
At the hearing, Brady spoke about her experience:
While I’m not sure we will ever know the exact cause of my illness, I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened if the casinos hadn’t forced me to work in second-hand smoke.
My co-workers and I are not just numbers on a fact sheet or nameless robots who deal out cards. We’re a strong, robust workforce that was responsible for keeping Atlantic City’s gaming industry alive during the pandemic. Allowing indoor smoking is an outdated practice … for workers like me, it is a life or death fight.
Notably, New Jersey laws already protect most state employees from second-hand smoke. Plus, many states (including New York) already ban smoking in casinos, seemingly without ill effect. Others, like Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, are revisiting a ban on casino smoking.
Additionally, a New Jersey Center For Disease Control office released a report on second-hand smoke earlier this year. The study found the only way to protect nonsmokers is by removing smoking from casinos.
Of course, the casino industry is balking at the proposed changes.
AC Casino Industry Forecasts Smoking Ban Doom
A report commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), representing Atlantic City’s nine casinos, predicts doom if the ban goes through.
CANJ President Joe Lupo said:
Atlantic City has yet to see growth from pre-pandemic levels.
Employment at our casinos is at a 20-year low, with less than 50% of the workforce from 2003. Visitation to Atlantic City is at a 20-year low, while gas prices and tolls are increasing.
And land-based casino revenue remains at an almost 50% decrease from our peak in 2006.
Adding a smoking ban could cause a devastating effect to the community and state.
However, casino workers dispute the findings, arguing it overlooks the potential long-term benefits of banning casino smoking.
And despite pushback on the ban from several workers’ unions, enrollment in anti-smoking organizations is on the rise, too. One such group, Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE), aims to raise awareness and pass the Atlantic City casino smoking ban.
Report Questions Industry Fear-Mongering Over Effects of Smoking Ban
Fortunately, a report released last year by Las- Vegas-based C3 Gaming could offer some assistance.
As the Associated Press reported, the pandemic altered traditional aspects of the casino experience. The study reviewed casinos’ performance in numerous states post-pandemic.
The report found:
Those casinos that implemented smoking prohibitions did not experience any drop in revenues or lost market share to nearby casinos that continued to offer smoking environments.
In many cases, casinos eliminated daily housekeeping and room service and closed buffets; all changes customers adjusted to. The conclusion, the study said, is customers will get used to a smoking ban, too.
The report said:
The pandemic altered consumer expectations and consumer behavior in virtually every industry, including retail, entertainment, lodging, dining, and casino gaming.
One of those changes (is) in attitudes towards smoking in casinos.
Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue.
In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.
What’s Next for AC Casino Smoking Ban Legislation?
Before either anti-smoking bill makes it to a vote, the AHC must submit a recommendation to the state legislature. Once that happens, the legislature could vote on one or both bills.
Should either bill pass, Gov. Murphy could sign the ban into law before 2023 ends.