Wondering if you can light up a smoke in the casino? Find out everything you need to know about the future of smoking in Atlantic City, New Jersey casinos.
For some people, gambling, smoking, and enjoying an adult beverage all go hand in hand. But for others, the adverse health risks related to smoking are too much to gamble with. Atlantic City Casinos have spent many years accommodating both smokers and nonsmokers, but things could change since coronavirus-related restrictions are lifting and more people are returning to casino floors. Here’s what you need to know about the future of smoking in Atlantic City casinos.
History of Smoking in AC Casinos
Since their re-inception in the 1970s, casinos have allowed smoking on the gaming floor and adjusted smoking rules to make the facilities more comfortable for smokers and nonsmokers alike. In the mid-2000s, New Jersey joined many other states in passing indoor smoking bans for all public places, like workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
But when the Smoke-Free Air Act was passed in 2007, the state’s government issued an exception for all of Atlantic City’s casinos and gambling houses. That’s when the state required them to create designated smoking areas and limit the amount of smoking area to no more than 25% of the casino floor. And that’s how it was until July 2020 when AC casinos reopened after a brief hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Is the Current Status of Smoking in AC Casinos?
Atlantic City casinos reopened in late summer and early autumn of 2020 with limited capacity, social distancing, mask mandates, and strict smoke-free policies per CDC guidelines. Now, with more of the U.S. population getting vaccinated, the CDC is reducing social distancing and mask mandates for many locations, including AC casinos.
Smoke-free advocates are using the temporary smoking ban in AC casinos as an opportunity to overturn the Smoke-Free Air Act’s exception for the area’s gambling facilities. Recently, six of New Jersey’s top political decision-makers introduced legislation that would overturn the 2007 exception and make AC casinos smoke-free for good.
With the temporary smoking ban scheduled to lift sometime in June 2021, this legislation and its detractors, including local casino boards and industry professionals, leave a lot of unknowns about whether the temporary ban will be permanent. And there are strong arguments and plenty of important factors to consider on both sides.
Arguments for Allowing Smoking in AC Casinos
Officials from the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) and coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism coordinator Jane Bokunewicz have argued on behalf of removing the ban.
It Can Prevent a Loss in Revenue for the AC Casino Industry
Much like the citizens of Atlantic City in the 1970s pushing for an AC-specific referendum on casino gambling, casino operators and other industry officials are citing a need to maintain revenue as the prime reason to remove the temporary smoking ban in casinos. Being able to cater to both smokers and nonsmokers allows AC casinos to attract more gamblers. Take that away, and Atlantic City’s revenue from the casino industry and much of its tourism could take a hit.
Allowing smoking in Atlantic City casinos can also help to recoup the losses from the pandemic shutdown and limited capacities. And AC has already faced competition from other northeastern casinos and gambling houses in neighboring states. Removing smoking, which makes AC unique to some of these regional competitors, can remove their competitive edge, according to the CANJ.
Bokunewicz cited two studies: a 2005 study of Delaware casinos seeing a 9-16% decrease in revenue when they instituted smoking bans and a 2009 study that showed a 20% decrease in casino revenue in Illinois after a smoking ban.
It Can Sustain Local Jobs in the Casino Industry and Tax Revenue
In addition to losing revenue due to fewer patrons, AC casinos may need to lay off casino employees to mitigate losses. And that would mean reduced taxes paid to the state for important social and welfare services for the elderly and those on disability.
But while both of these arguments have many important factors, like unemployment and local and state tax revenue, the organization known as Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) has released a lot of information to support that banning indoor smoking might not impact casino revenue as much as people think. In fact, ANR reported that Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland have seen record-high casino revenues since COVID-19 restrictions started lifting.
Arguments Against Allowing Smoking in AC Casinos
The ANR and its AC-based sub-organization Smoke-Free Atlantic City have a few arguments of their own in favor of the legislation to ban indoor smoking in casinos.
Patrons Have Already Had Time to Adjust to Smoke-Free Casinos
Despite the two studies that Bokunewicz cited, she also acknowledged that the pandemic’s pause on smoking in casinos may have been a practice run for officially smoke-free casinos. This could mean that AC casinos may not experience the same revenue drops.
There Are High Risks Related to Second-Hand Smoke
Smoke-Free Atlantic City wrote a letter to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, encouraging him to support the “common sense policy decision” to make casinos smoke-free. They cited years of studies that show the harmful effects of smoking and second-hand smoke, including higher risks of cancer and heart disease — A game of chance that many AC casino patrons don’t want to play.
The organization also cited that Atlantic City has an opportunity to join 23 states, more than 160 tribal-owned gambling facilities, and approximately 1,100 other casinos that do not permit smoking indoors. This argument focused on encouraging the northeastern gambling mecca to change with the times rather than revert back to old, potentially harmful ways.
New Ventilation Won’t Reduce Second-Hand Smoke’s Effects
Many casino operators have announced that, in light of the pandemic, they’ve had their facilities’ ventilation systems assessed and upgraded to “state-of-the-art” ventilation systems to improve the flow of fresh air. While ventilation can remove odors and the sight of smoke from designated smoking areas, the CDC pointed out that ventilation won’t remove all of the smoke or the chemicals related to tobacco usage. Another strong case in defense of this legislation.
A Properly Regulated Ban Can Preserve Market Share
Bokunewicz suggests that a regulated state-wide ban placed on AC casinos would be more effective than letting individual companies allow or disallow smoking. That’s because there’s a risk for casinos that have smoking bans to lose out on market share and stay afloat. She recalled the fierce competition Revel faced when it opened a smoke-free casino in 2012, only to go bankrupt in 2013 before reversing the ban and creating indoor smoking areas.
Over the next few weeks and months, Atlantic City and the rest of the world should find out the fate of this indoor smoking ban and how it will impact the AC casino industry. No matter where you land on this issue, you can always rely on New Jersey online casinos to play all of your favorite games and try for big prizes and bonuses.
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