Atlantic City Casino Smoking Bill Will Distance Smokers From Workers

Posted on: February 15, 2024, 08:41h. 

Last updated on: February 15, 2024, 11:28h.

The continued allowance of smoking in Atlantic City casinos has some resort workers fuming. New legislation seeks to modify how the nine casinos can permit indoor tobacco use. But casino employees say the legislation does little to protect their health by reducing their exposure to secondhand smoke.

Atlantic City casino smoking New Jersey
Atlantic City casino workers demand smoke-free gaming floors during a 2023 rally. Legislation was introduced this week in New Jersey that would amend how casinos permit indoor tobacco use. (Image: AP)

Senate Bill 2651 was introduced this week in the Trenton state capital by Sen. John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester). The statute is co-sponsored by two Republicans and two additional Democrats.

SB 2651 would revise New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act and change the casino smoking permittance of indoor cigarettes and cigars. The statute currently lets slot licensees designate up to 25% of their gaming floor space for tobacco consumption.

Burzichelli’s bill would slightly adjust the law. The proposal seeks to require that casinos keep designated smoking sections at a minimum of 15 feet from casino pits offering live dealer table games.

The casinos would also be allowed to develop fully enclosed interior designated smoking rooms, but only slot machines — no table games — would be allowed in such environments. The measure also proposes that casinos cannot force an employee to work in the enclosed smoking chambers. The rooms must also have separate ventilation systems from the main casino floor.

CEASE Not Happy

“Casino Employees Against Smoke Effects (CEASE),” the grassroots group of casino workers formed in Atlantic City that has since expanded with chapters in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Virginia, is fighting for a clean-air workplace. CEASE members quickly dismissed Burzichelli’s bill as appeasing “Big Tobacco” and the multibillion-dollar companies that run the resorts.

This bill would retain the same level of smoking as is currently permitted and will not decrease in any way the amount of exposure workers have to secondhand smoke,” a CEASE statement read. The group said the legislation reads as “Big Tobacco and casino industry talking points, copied and pasted.”

The American Cancer Society also scolded the measure as inadequate.

“Since the 1980s, we’ve known that secondhand smoke can cause cancer, along with a host of other devastating health effects like heart disease,” the ACS said. “Yet despite the crystal-clear proof that exposure to secondhand smoke is bad and that smoke-free laws work, lawmakers continue to force Atlantic City workers to choose between their paycheck and breathing in secondhand smoke.”

Industry Arguments

The trade group representing the nine casinos, the Casino Association of New Jersey, argues a full smoking ban would result in reduced gaming and lead to massive job layoffs. There are also concerns that at least one casino resort would close, which would impact jobs away from the casino.

Casino smoking remains permissible at most Pennsylvania casinos. Burzichelli says his bill is a compromise that should appease both sides of the matter.

It’s about what we can do to keep casinos open,” the longtime state lawmaker who has held a seat in the legislature since 2002.

SB 2651 has been directed to the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee. It’s the same committee that last month approved Senate Bill 1493, which seeks to fully extinguish indoor casino smoking.