Atlantic City Casino Smoking Cessation Legislation Gains Support

Posted on: January 29, 2024, 04:35h. 

Last updated on: February 3, 2024, 12:53h.

Atlantic City casino smoking is allowed on up to 25% of the gaming floors. But that could soon change after legislation seeking to close the indoor tobacco use loophole moved out of its first committee Monday in Trenton.

Atlantic City casino smoking
Supporters of legislation to require Atlantic City casinos to end indoor smoking celebrate after a bill gained committee support on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. The casinos claim thousands of jobs would be lost if smoking is extinguished. (Image: NJ Senate Democrats)

Senate Bill 1493 seeks to amend New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act to close the tobacco exemption afforded to casinos in Atlantic City. The legislation was passed via party lines Monday in the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee.

S1493 comes from state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), who has been trying to make the nine casinos down the shore go smoke-free for years. The legislation is his reintroduced casino smoking bill that was numbered Senate Bill 264 last year.

Monday’s 5-1 vote saw Vitale and his committee Democratic colleagues vote in favor of moving the anti-casino smoking statute forward. Vitale was joined by Sens. Renee Burgess (D-Irvington), Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), Senate President Pro Tempore Shirley Turner (D-Ewing Township), and Andrew Zwicker (D-Hillsborough).

Turner is a primary cosponsor of S1493 and has championed efforts to extinguish casino smoking in previous legislative sessions. Turner and Zwicker sat in on the committee for Sens. Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown) and Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City).

Two committee Republicans, Sens. Owen Henry (R-Old Bridge) and Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood), refrained from voting. Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood) voted in the minority.

Casino Smoking Milestone

Efforts to end casino smoking in Atlantic City have lingered in the Trenton capital for many years. It’s been more than 18 years since most workers in New Jersey gained the legal right to work in an environment free of toxic secondhand smoke.

Members of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) say they cannot wait any longer. The grassroots coalition that started in New Jersey has rallied support for smoke-free casinos in Atlantic City. The group has since expanded, with chapters in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Virginia, where casino smoking also persists.

CEASE hailed Monday’s committee vote.

We thank the committee for voting to pass legislation that will immediately improve our workplace conditions and fully protect thousands of frontline casino workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke,” a statement provided to read.

“Today is a great day in our fight for a healthier workplace, and we won’t stop fighting for this legislation until we can finally breathe smoke-free air at work. We urge lawmakers to pass this bill when it comes to the Senate floor, because no one should be forced to choose between their health and a paycheck,” the release continued.

S1493 has been directed to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, where it’s set for further consideration.

Jobs vs. Health

The crux of the legislative debate about Atlantic City casino smoking boils down to determining if a tobacco ban would result in the nine casinos winning less money on their gaming floors. Two studies on the issue reached different conclusions.

The Casino Association of New Jersey commissioned Spectrum Gaming, one of the most respected research firms in the U.S. gaming industry, to analyze the impact of a smoking ban.

Spectrum said in its 2022 report that a full smoking ban would result in a nearly 11% decline in brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue in the first year after implementation. The casino win drop-off would lead to as much as $44 million in reduced gaming taxes and could lead to as many as 2,500 job losses, Spectrum said.

In a contrasting study, C3 Gaming formed only in 2021, wrote in a 2022 research brief titled  “Evaluation of Post-Pandemic Non-Smoking Trends in U.S. Casinos” that the allowance of indoor smoking is no longer critical to gaming revenue health.

C3 researchers countered claims made by Atlantic City casino execs that suggested gamblers who like to smoke would take their business to nearby Philadelphia. That’s where several casinos continue to allow indoor cigarette and cigar smoking.

Should the New Jersey Legislature close the smoking loophole and prohibit smoking in Atlantic City casinos, gamblers from New York, New Jersey, and Eastern Pennsylvania will have only four options if they want to gamble in a smoking environment and none of them offers the same gaming/entertainment experience as Atlantic City,” the C3 report declared.

The C3 conclusion references indoor smoking remaining at Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, Harrah’s Philadelphia, Rivers Casino Philadelphia, and Valley Forge Casino Resort.

Wind Creek Bethlehem, about an hour north of Philly, also allows indoor smoking. Parx Casino Philadelphia, however, which is the richest casino in the state, does not.

Some lawmakers in New Jersey — mainly Republicans — think there might be possible solutions to better protect worker health than imposing a complete ban. New Jersey Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic), once a major supporter of a casino smoking ban who flipped his position after hearing from the casinos, is reportedly considering introducing a concession bill that would continue to allow some form of indoor smoking.

Ideas floated include fully enclosed smoking rooms where slot machines and a few table games would operate. The casinos have assured lawmakers that only volunteer employees would work in such environments.

CEASE members aren’t buying it.

“Sen. Polistina should not introduce his so-called ‘compromise’ bill that will only compromise the health of Atlantic City workers,” CEASE wrote. “Only a couple of weeks ago, he told workers that [S1493] did not have the votes to get out of this committee. But here we are celebrating this milestone. The train is leaving the station and it’s time for him to get on board or get out of the way.”