Atlantic City Casinos Defend Pro-Smoking Stance, Cite Air Filtration Systems

Posted on: June 1, 2021, 12:26h. 

Last updated on: June 1, 2021, 03:16h.

Atlantic City casinos are opposing efforts by state lawmakers in Trenton to end their exclusion from the New Jersey 2007 Smoke-Free Air Act.

Atlantic City smoking casino gaming
A woman holds a cigarette while gambling on a slot machine in Atlantic City. Casino smoking remains on hold in the New Jersey beachfront town. But an effort is underway to permanently ban smoking on the gaming floors. (Image: AP)

When Atlantic City’s nine casinos were permitted to reopen last July, indoor smoking remained on hold. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus and medical experts said secondhand smoke can spread the coronavirus. 

But now, as the COVID-19 situation improves, anti-smoking advocates are urging state officials to continue making Atlantic City casinos free of indoor tobacco smoke, including vaping. Legislation has been introduced in the New Jersey Senate that would end casinos’ exemption from the law that bans indoor smoking in most workplaces and public areas.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) remains undecided on the issue. 

“No opinion,” Murphy said last month after being asked if smoking should be permanently extinguished inside casinos. He conceded, however, that the antismoking advocates make “a very compelling case.”

Air Filtration Questioned

Casinos have defended their air filtration systems throughout the pandemic. The gaming resorts were some of the last businesses Murphy permitted to reopen last year, something the casinos said was illogical, as their businesses routinely circulate fresh air.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, says ventilation does not effectively protect people who don’t smoke from secondhand smoke. 

“Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds of these chemicals are toxic, and about 70 can cause cancer,” the CDC states.

“There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke, and even brief exposure can cause immediate harm. Establishing a 100 percent smoke-free environment is the only effective way to fully protect those who do not smoke from secondhand smoke, the agency adds.

Industry Argues Smoking Needed

The CANJ says now is not the time to ban indoor casino smoking. Atlantic City casinos saw gross gaming revenue declined almost 44 percent in 2020, and the health crisis took gross operating profits down more than 80 percent.

Atlantic City casinos cater to a diverse and dynamic cross section of guests, including both smokers and nonsmokers. Banning smoking permanently would have long-term financial implications for the industry and the region,” a CANJ release opined. 

“Going completely nonsmoking would place Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other nearby casinos that allow smoking. A smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City, resulting in a decline in customers which would cause job loss, and ultimately a decline in tax revenue,” the association continued.

Pennsylvania allows its commercial casinos to designate up to 50 percent of its gaming space to smoking. However, smoking inside casinos in both Maryland and Delaware is prohibited. 

Smoking inside Atlantic City casinos could return as early as this month. Murphy’s public health emergency is set to expire on June 15. Unless the governor extends it for another 30 days, smoking will be welcomed back on that date.