Atlantic City Casino Smoking Opponents Demand Conversation With Gaming Industry

Posted on: September 23, 2022, 09:44h. 

Last updated on: September 23, 2022, 11:56h.

Atlantic City this week hosted the 25th Annual East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC) at the Hard Rock.

Atlantic City casino smoking Hard Rock CEASE
Cynthia Hallett, president of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, speaks on September 22, 2022, at an anti-smoking casino rally in Atlantic City. The event occurred outside the Hard Rock, where the East Coast Gaming Congress was held. (Image: AP)

Annually the largest domestic gathering of gaming industry professionals outside of Nevada, the ECGC brings leaders from the industry and government together to discuss policy and ideas. An array of topics were considered during the three-day conference that ends today. But one major contention among many workers was left out — indoor casino smoking.

The ECGC had originally planned to bring the two sides of the casino smoking conversation face-to-face. It would be the first time they met since a coalition of gaming employees united to oppose the resumption of indoor smoking in early July 2020. But Resorts Casino Hotel CEO Mark Giannantonio dropped out, which led to the debate’s cancellation.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) temporarily suspended casino smoking amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But tobacco use on up to 25% of the gaming floors was allowed to resume following the expiration of his emergency health order.

“Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects” (CEASE) nonetheless made their voices heard at the ECGC yesterday. The group seeking to end the casino smoking loophole gathered outside the Hard Rock on the Boardwalk, where about 100 people rallied in the rain against ongoing casino smoke.

Conversation Needed

In the planned debate, Resorts Casino Hotel CEO Giannantonio would have defended the casinos’ stance that eliminating indoor smoking would hurt revenue. As many as 2,500 workers would pay the price with their jobs. After Giannantonio dropped out of the scheduled event a little more than a week before the conference, ECGC organizers said they could not find an industry fill-in for the Resorts boss.

The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) is running and hiding,” Peter Naccarelli, a Borgata table game dealer who co-leads CEASE, told the Associated Press. “They have no logical arguments.”

The industry’s argument is based on a study it commissioned. That examination found a complete indoor smoking ban inside the nine casinos would likely push annual gaming revenue down 25% or more. Spectrum Gaming Group, which organizes the ECGC, conducted the CANJ smoking review on the industry’s behalf.

Other studies, however, have found that a smoking ban might not be so severe. Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming wrote in June that smoke-free casinos in many other states outperform their smoking counterparts in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Money Over Lives

Lamont White, another Borgata dealer, helping lead the CEASE effort, says the industry values profits over health.

“‘We’d lose money, and money is more important than casino workers’ lives.’ That’s all they have to say,” White said.

Murphy supports making the casinos go smoke-free. He says he would sign legislation that ends the casino loophole, should it reach his desk. But Murphy did not address the topic during his ECGC keynote yesterday.

New Jersey lawmakers recently reconvened from their summer recess. Two bills that would force Atlantic City casinos to go smoke-free remain in each legislative chamber. Assembly Bill 2151 and Senate Bill 264 each have bipartisan support but have sat idle for many months.