Atlantic City Casino Industry Folds on Smoking Discussion at Gaming Conference

Posted on: September 14, 2022, 04:13h. 

Last updated on: September 14, 2022, 01:07h.

An official representing Atlantic City’s casino industry was ready to justify why patrons should continue to be allowed to smoke indoors at properties in the city. But, that discussion has been snuffed out as a planned roundtable on the issue has been pulled from the schedule at the upcoming East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC).

Atlantic City casino industry smoking
Atlantic City casino workers protest against smoking within their places of employment. A planned debate on the matter at the upcoming East Coast Gaming Congress has been scrapped. (Image:

Resorts Casino Hotel’s longtime CEO Mark Giannantonio originally agreed to discuss casino smoking in Atlantic City during the ECGC, which runs from September 21-23 at the Hard Rock. But after the gaming veteran was appointed to lead the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), he informed the conference that the tobacco conversation would no longer be happening.

Giannantonio instead spoke directly to the media. He conveyed that the casinos have been steadfast in their opinion that eliminating smoking so soon after the pandemic would greatly threaten the economic health of the nine resorts.

A CANJ-commissioned study on the issue backed that conclusion. According to the study, annual gaming revenue might drop 25% should cigarettes no longer be tolerated inside the casinos, and as many as 2,500 jobs would be in jeopardy.

Debate Ensues in Media

Giannantonio replaced former Hard Rock Atlantic City CEO Joe Lupo as head of the Atlantic City trade group. Lupo has agreed to head up Hard Rock’s forthcoming casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Lupo also opposed ending indoor smoking and caused a bit of controversy earlier this year when he said he doesn’t believe “30 people walking down the Boardwalk” protesting indoor smoking “represents the 21,000 employees employed in the casinos.”

Giannantonio says that while the smoking conversation might be warranted in the future, such a rule change now isn’t in the industry’s best interest.

The Casino Association of New Jersey has been very transparent in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City,” Giannantonio told the Associated Press. “We believe that more time is needed to devise and implement a solution that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs.”

Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, scolded the industry’s no-show. 

“It’s remarkably telling that Atlantic City casinos couldn’t find one person to publicly defend their position in favor of indoor smoking,” Hallett commented. “They know that they cannot win on the facts — even their economic arguments have been thoroughly rebutted — so they are avoiding a public discussion.

“We are disappointed that this conversation will be missing from the formal conference program, but rest assured: the presence of casino workers who have been fighting for their health will be felt next week,” Hallett said.

CEASE — Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects — has been organizing casino smoking protests since smoking was allowed to return to the Atlantic City resorts in July 2021.

Legislation Lingers

Two identical bills that ban smoking in casinos have stalled in Trenton.

Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151 have broad bipartisan support, and enough state lawmakers have lent their support to the measures to send the legislation to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who favors making the casinos go smoke-free.

But the bills haven’t been put up for a vote in either legislative chamber.

Democratic leaders are reportedly hesitant to move forward with the legislative effort because Atlantic City’s leading casino union, Unite Here Local 54, has joined the casino industry in opposing such a change on fears that jobs could be lost.