March 16, 2023
New Jersey Legislators Consider Total Ban on Smoking in Atlantic City Casinos
Explore the ongoing debate on New Jersey’s casino smoking ban as lawmakers weigh health concerns against potential job losses and revenue declines. Stay informed on the legislative process, key stakeholders, and potential impacts on Atlantic City’s casino industry.
- Two proposed bills before the New Jersey State Legislature would eliminate an exception to state laws that permits smoking inside state casinos.
- Casino workers and health care advocates support a complete smoking ban to protect casino employees.
- Atlantic City Casinos and the Casino Labor Union fear that the ban could negatively impact business as the industry fights to recover from lost income from the coronavirus as well as the threat of further losses to New York City casino openings.
New Jersey legislatures will soon debate closing an exception that permits smoking on New Jersey casino premises.
On Mar. 9, an initial public hearing was held by the Assembly Health Committee and the Assembly Tourism, Gaming, and Arts Committee. More than a dozen groups spoke in favor of making it illegal for people to smoke in casinos in the state.
However, the proposal faces strong opposition from Atlantic City casinos and the main Casino Labor Union in Atlantic City, which fear widespread job losses if smoking is banned in the casinos.
The debate comes at a crucial time for the Atlantic City casino industry as it tries to regain lost business from the coronavirus pandemic, and braces for the opening of one or more additional casinos in New York City, which are expected to compete for Atlantic City customers.
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, recently sent a letter to State Senate President Nicholas Scutari, urged lawmakers not to pass a smoking ban.
“While we want to ensure that our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union and throughout the state, and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs,” he wrote.
The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group for Atlantic City’s nine casinos, recently commissioned a report predicting widespread job losses and revenue declines if smoking is banned in Atlantic City.
“Atlantic City has yet to see growth from pre-pandemic levels,” association president Joe Lupo said. “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,” he added. “Adding a smoking ban could cause a devastating effect to the community and state.”
Casino workers dispute the findings of that report, saying it does not take into account a likely improvement in casino business conditions in the years after a smoking ban is enacted, as gamblers become used to a smoke-free environment.
Earlier this month, state gambling regulators released figures showing that Atlantic City casinos collectively exceeded the levels of gross operating profit that they enjoyed before the pandemic broke out in 2020.
New Jersey Laws Governing Smoking in Casinos
Casinos and gaming rooms are the only public places in New Jersey that still allow indoor smoking. Legislation banning smoking in restaurants, markets, shopping centers, bars, and saloons passed in 2006 under the state’s Smoke-Free Air Act. However, language in that legislation exempted casinos from the smoking ban.
New Jersey State employees have long been protected from secondhand smoke. Many states, including New York and Pennsylvania, currently have bans in place on smoking in casinos.
Earlier this year a Center For Disease Control office in New Jersey released a report on secondhand smoke that concluded that the only way to prevent harm to nonsmokers was to prohibit smoking in casinos.
Two bills currently before the New Jersey state legislature, S264 and A2151 would do just that. Many of the members of the Assembly Health Committee are in favor of eliminating smoking in New Jersey casinos.
Groups that spoke in favor of a smoking ban include:
- The American Cancer Society
- American Lung Association
- National Council on Problem Gambling
- UFCW Local 152
- American Heart Association
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
“We welcome the support of a majority of members from these two important committees as well as the several other members who recently signed on as cosponsors to the legislation,” said Cynthia Hallet, the president, and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
Next Steps for The Proposed NJ Casino Smoking Ban
New Jersey State Senators Nicholas Sacco and Renee Burgess co-sponsored S264. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has long promised to sign into law a bill that would close the smoking loophole, thus removing the casino exception to public smoking in New Jersey.
The next steps are for the Assembly Health Committee to submit a recommendation to the New Jersey state legislature. Following that, one or both bills removing the smoking ban exception could be voted on. If passed, the governor could sign it into law this year.