New Jersey’s state legislators want to push through legislation (Smokefree Air Act) that would ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos.
Atlantic City casino and hotel workers worry that this ban would cause more gamblers to play in Pennsylvania or choose online casinos instead.
Bob McDevittfrom the AC casino workers union believes the smoking ban should be tabled until Pennsylvania bans it to avoid a competitive disadvantage.
Atlantic City’s Governor, Phil Murphy, plans to sign new legislation (Smokefree Air Act) banning smoking throughout casinos in Atlantic City. However, Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 which is a workers union representing more than 10,000 Atlantic City employees, has spoken out recently against the Smokefree Air Act claiming that a smoking ban in New Jersey casinos could cause gamblers to visit neighboring Pennsylvania instead — where smoking in casinos is still legal.
“If people opt not to go, that means they’re not staying in the hotel, that means there’s no reason to have them make the hotel beds. It won’t just have an effect on folks who are dealers, and folks who are bartenders,”McDevitt told NJ Spotlight.
Opposing the New Jersey smoking ban in casinos seems counter to current trends which emphasize employee health and wellness over profits and actually goes against an April 25, 2022, Press Release from another Atlantic City workers union (UAW) that supports the New Jersey Smokefree Air Act. In the Press Release, it asserts that
“Our members include dealers who sit inches away from patrons who blow smoke directly into their face for eight hours a day, every single day. It is simply unacceptable knowing what we know about the dangers of secondhand smoke. It is unacceptable knowing that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful to someone’s health. According to the CDC, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals of which hundreds are toxic and at least 70 can cause cancer. No worker in the state of NJ should be forced to breathe cancer-causing chemicals every single day.”
McDevitt Says Wait Until Pennslyvania Bans Smoking
McDevitt’s main stance against the smoking ban is less about health and more about the competitive disadvantage it would have on New Jersey casinos compared to its neighboring Pennsylvania. In November 2022, Mark Giannantonio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, told the New York Times that banning smoking in casinos would cause an estimated 11% decline in NJ casino revenue. This loss in revenue would be caused by players choosing to gamble in Pennsylvania more frequently and because additional smoke breaks outside the casino would lead to less time spent gambling.
“If you take away the option to smoke, and you allow it in Pennsylvania, there’s going to be a net drop in gaming in New Jersey,” McDevitt says.
McDevitt argues that the best course of action right now is to table the Smokefree Air Act until Pennsylvania has also banned smoking — creating an equal gambling experience between both states.
How Casino Smoking Affects Workers
The most important factor to consider when deciding whether or not the Atlantic City casino smoking ban is good or bad is the workers’ well-being and health. Undoubtedly, smoking in casino causes harm to workers’ health. The Centers for Disease Control found that casinos allowing smoking can cause cardiovascular disease with as little past two hours of exposure.
While employee health is priority number one, the concern from casino workers is that the loss in revenue from banning smoking will impact their job security. Fortunately, there are no evidence to support the claim that banning smoking will have a negative effect on casino revenue — in fact, the examples from casinos that have banned smoking are counter to that claim
During the pandemic, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy banned smoking in casinos. Rather than losing revenue, casinos actually saw an 11% increase during that time. Additionally, some casinos in other states have proactively banned smoking and have reported no significant loss in gambling revenue.
These results are not guaranteed, but it’s conceivable that by banning smoke inside casinos, you can create a more enjoyable atmosphere for gamblers as a whole instead of a single group who enjoy smoking and enjoy the smell/environment of smoke. This improvement can have a net positive on the gambling experience, bringing more gamblers to the casino who may not have gambled there previously.
When Will the Smoking Ban Go Into Effect?
The smoking ban already has bipartisan support in New Jersey and already has the support of Gov. Phil Murphy who plans to sign it within the next week. Sometime over the next three months, the bill should hit the New Jersey legislation floor for an official vote which means it is very likely to be passed and put into effect sometime before the end of 2023.