Atlantic City Casino Smoking Opponents Sniff Out Problems with Proposed Solutions

Posted on: August 10, 2022, 01:01h. 

Last updated on: August 10, 2022, 11:37h.

Atlantic City casino smoking opponents say the suggestions being pitched by the local gaming industry to limit workers’ exposure to secondhand smoke are nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Atlantic City casino smoking New Jersey gambling
Atlantic City casino workers who want indoor smoking extinguished rally on the Boardwalk on April 12, 2022. Proposed solutions, including outdoor gaming smoking areas, have been met with resistance. (Image: AP)

A growing coalition of Atlantic City casino workers wants the properties to be smoke-free. New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act provided an exemption for state casinos to designate up to 25% of their gaming floor space for indoor tobacco smoking.

Legislation to close the casino smoking loophole has majority support in the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly. But the bills- Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151- have not yet received a committee hearing, despite each measure having enough cosponsors to pass.

It’s widely believed that the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) has successfully lobbied the New Jersey Legislature’s leadership into delaying a smoking cessation bill as long as possible. The nine casinos claim they’re still reeling from the pandemic, and a smoking ban would cut into their gaming revenue and resort business, and subsequently, a smoking ban may lead to job losses.

‘Half-Baked’ Solutions

Bob McDevitt, the union boss of the Unite Here Local 54 labor group that represents 10,000 workers employed by the casinos, has sided with the industry — not the workers seeking clean indoor work environments. McDevitt shares the opinion that fully smoke-free casinos would lead to mass layoffs.

The union leader says possible solutions continue to be explored, including outdoor gaming areas where smokers will be able to light up while gambling. But “Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE),” the nonprofit leading the anti-casino smoking fight in Atlantic City, says outdoor gaming patios remain hazardous for employees.

Outdoor smoking gaming areas are common in other parts of the nation. But critics say the spaces are essentially indoors, as the areas are still relatively enclosed environments with roofs and walls but small openings that let in the fresh air.

Another proposal from the gaming interests and the union is developing an opt-out policy. That clause would protect current Atlantic City casino workers’ jobs should they tell their employer they no longer wish to work near or in a smoking area. CEASE cofounder Peter Naccarelli says that too is a non-starter. Naccarelli believes the opt-out plan might result in low-income job seekers taking jobs in the designated smoking areas.

The so-called opt-out idea only forces workers to risk their health for a paycheck. It is not a solution at all,” said Naccarelli.

“A casino worker living paycheck to paycheck should not have to risk their health by working in a smoking area just to get by. But that’s exactly what would happen,” Naccarelli continued.

“The most vulnerable workers would suffer most. Legislators should recognize the problematic scenario this would create and reject this half-baked idea,” Naccarelli concluded.

Awaiting Action

According to the latest count, New Jersey Senate Bill 264 is sponsored by 20 of the 40 sitting state senators. Assembly Bill 2151 is sponsored by 44 assemblypersons of the 80-member lower chamber.

CEASE claims its organization has the support of thousands of casino dealers and other frontline gaming workers. The organization was formed after indoor casino smoking was permitted to return in Atlantic City after being temporarily put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.