CEASE, UAW Sue Gov. Murphy Over Failure to Ban Smoking in New Jersey Casinos

United Auto Workers (UAW) and grassroots anti-smoking advocacy group Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects (CEASE) filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court against Gov. Philip Murphy to force an overturn of a legal loophole that allows smoking on casino floors. Workers say the 18-year exception unfairly affects New Jersey’s casino employees.

The lawsuit, which also targets acting Health Commissioner Dr. Kaitlin Baston, follows years of unsuccessful lobbying to extend New Jersey’s smoking ban to casino floors. UAW members work at Bally’s, Caesars, and Tropicana casinos.

Borgata dealer and co-founder of CEASE, Lamont White, spoke at a rally outside the courthouse where anti-smoking advocates filed the suit.

Today, we get off our knees and stand up! We offered them the carrot, and now they get the stick!

Lawsuit Seeks to Overturn Smoking Exemption

New Jersey banned smoking in indoor workplaces in 2006—except in casinos, which still allow smoking on 25% of the casino floor.

However, with 39 years of experience in Atlantic City casinos, White told CBS MoneyWatch that even 25% is too much.

You know you’re in a place unlike any other place in 2024, immediately. Nobody has to be smoking near you, you get the effect as soon as you walk into the casino. My eyes are always red. I have upper respiratory infections all the time — nothing serious yet, but we never know.

Nicole Vitola, another Borgata dealer and co-founder of CEASE, worked on smoked-filled casino floors through two pregnancies.

Vitola told MoneyWatch:

We stand at the tables where they can smoke directly in our faces. At no time do they show courtesy for the pregnant dealers.

As a result, the lawsuit seeks to have the casino exemption deemed unconstitutional on several grounds, including equal protection and a constitutional right to safety.

Lawmakers’ failure to protect casino workers prompted the legal effort, Ray Jensen Jr., local UAW assistant director, told AP News.

If the legislators in Trenton won’t do their jobs, we’re going to take the decision out of their hands and into a courtroom.

In a statement voicing support, New Jersey Sen. Joseph Vitale said lawmakers had “let a false argument about economics subjugate our duty to protect.” In doing so, he followed, the state “allowed corporations to poison their employees” for decades.

Gov. Murphy has reportedly shown interest in signing a smoking ban into law, but first, lawmakers must pass applicable legislation. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. That inaction is likely partly due to the state’s powerful casino lobby.

Bonus was not able to reach the Governor for comment.

Opposition Considers Ban ‘Suicide’

The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), representing all nine Atlantic City casinos, has declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, CANJ has previously come out against a ban, arguing prohibition would put Atlantic City casinos at a disadvantage compared to neighboring tobacco-friendly states.

The casino workers’ union, Unite Here Local 54, also opposes the ban. The union warns of consequences, including potential job loss and casino closures, particularly in light of dwindling revenues at New Jersey’s commercial casinos. In comparison, revenues at New Jersey online casinos have continued to soar.

According to AP, Local 54 president Donna DeCaprio cautioned lawmakers against making things more challenging for the local casino industry.

Alarm bells should be ringing in Atlantic City and in Trenton as to both the short-term and long-term negative economic trends. Representatives in the New Jersey Legislature must understand the perilous economic situation at hand for my members and indeed all workers in Atlantic City.

Previously, NBC Philadelphia reported DiCaprio had likened a smoking ban to “a suicide pact.”

While she said the union supports workers’ right to safety, a total smoking ban would “eliminate thousands of lucrative jobs” and possibly close casinos.

Anti-Smoking Advocates Take Battle to Shareholders

However, anti-smoking advocates reference a 2022 C3 study that found non-smoking casinos outperformed their stogey-permitting counterparts. They’ve also pointed to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found no secondhand smoke safe.

What comes of the lawsuit remains to be seen, but the effort points to an escalation of tactics as traditional lobbying appears to have failed. In addition to the New Jersey lawsuit, the anti-smoking camp recently added casino shareholders to their targets.

According to the report in the Las Vegas Sun, Boyd Gaming and Bally’s Corporation shareholders will hear proposals requesting a study of the possible financial benefits of smoke-free casinos. Reportedly, the groups behind the proposals—Trinity Health and the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF)—submitted a similar ask to Caesars.

Pete Naccarelli, longtime Borgata dealer and CEASE’s third cofounder, told the Sun the risks casino staff face from smoking are unacceptable.

We risk our lives every day just by going to work. It’s unacceptable and long past time for casino corporations to end this outdated business practice. The least the casinos can do is study the impact of indoor smoking.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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