Atlantic City Casino Unions Differ on Smoking Dilemma

Posted on: April 9, 2024, 09:55h. 

Last updated on: April 9, 2024, 09:25h.

The two casino unions in Atlantic City have differing stances when it comes to the ongoing allowance of indoor smoking on the gaming floors.

Atlantic City casino smoking New Jersey unions
Atlantic City casino workers protest outside the Mercer County Civil Superior Courthouse on April 5, 2024, after filing a lawsuit against New Jersey. The litigation challenges the legality of the state’s clean air law that permits casinos to designate up to 25% of their gaming space for smoking. (Image: X)

Unite Here Local 54 and the United Auto Workers (UAW) are the two leading unions representing an array of workers at the nine casinos down the New Jersey shore.

Unite Here represents nongaming workers like bartenders and waitstaff, kitchen employees, bellmen, and housekeepers. UAW in Atlantic City represents table game dealers, slot attendants and technicians, casino hosts, cage cashiers, simulcast employees, and keno operators.

Unite Here is opposed to state efforts to fully extinguish indoor casino smoking. UAW wants to force smokers to move outside to light up a cigarette or cigar, or to vape.

Unite Here leaders say they’re not pro-smoking but believe a complete indoor smoking ban would hurt the local gaming industry which is already struggling in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Contrasting Opinions 

Unite Here Local 54 President Donna DiCaprio says now isn’t the time for New Jersey lawmakers to terminate the casino smoking loophole included in the state’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act. DiCaprio is of the same impression as the Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group that represents the interests of the nine resorts in Trenton, in thinking that a smoking ban would keep some gamblers away and lead to citywide layoffs.

DiCaprio is supporting legislative efforts to amend casino smoking regulations. One idea is only allowing smoking inside enclosed gaming rooms. The proposed legislation would mandate that casinos not force employees to work in the smoke-filled chambers.

We think that the current arrangement can and should be improved, but a total smoking ban is just not the answer,” “DiCaprio told CBS Philadelphia.

UAW President Shawn Fain disagrees. He says casino workers should be afforded the same clean air that nearly all other workers in New Jersey receive.

Every worker deserves a safe and health workplace,” Fain said. “It’s a basic human right. Atlantic City casinos are forcing workers to gamble with their health and their futures.”

Fain’s UAW is helping pay for a lawsuit against the state on grounds that the 2006 smoking law violates casino workers’ rights. The litigation seeks a state judge to rescind the casino smoking carveout.  

Industry Health

The casino lobby in New Jersey continues to stress that it’s on life support. Casino executives and industry representatives cite an array of reasons as to why, such as inflation, a tight job market, increased labor costs, and encroaching competition.

Data from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, however, doesn’t necessarily back up the claim.

As reported this week, Atlantic City casinos made less money last year than they did in 2022. Six of the nine casinos reported gross operating profit declines, though all nine remained in the black.

2023 profits totaled $744.7 million, down 1.6%, or $12 million, year over year. However, the 2023 profits were significantly higher than pre-pandemic 2019 when the bottom lines collectively totaled $613 million.

The profit gains have come from the market leaders Borgata, Hard Rock, Ocean, and Tropicana. 2023 profits were lower compared with 2019 for the five other casinos, Bally’s, Caesars, Golden Nugget, Harrah’s, and Resorts.