Atlantic City Casinos to Welcome Back Smokers Next Month

Posted on: May 20, 2021, 08:40h. 

Last updated on: July 6, 2021, 04:25h.

Atlantic City casinos have been free of indoor smoke for more than 14 months. But come June, gamblers will be allowed to light back up.

Atlantic City casinos smoking New Jersey
Cigarettes stubbed out in an ashtray above. Casinos in Atlantic City are set to resume allowing indoor smoking next month once New Jersey further lifts COVID-19 health restrictions. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) COVID-19 public health emergency is set to expire next month. Unless the Democratic governor — who is one of only two governors in the country facing reelection in the fall — extends the directive, casino smoking will be permitted to resume.

The coronavirus crisis resulted in more than 1,100 casinos in the US temporarily halting indoor smoking. Anti-smoking advocates have pounced, calling on lawmakers and casino companies to make the tentative ban permanent. 

The Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights have repeatedly issued releases highlighting the strong return of gross gaming revenues (GGR) since states began lifting COVID-19 restrictions. 

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland have each posted all-time record monthly gaming revenue highs in 2021. And the American Gaming Association reports that commercial GGR in Q1 of this year totaled more than $11.1 billion — a record three-month period.

“Smoke-free casinos are good for business because guests want clean air,” the advocacy argues.

Smoking Ban Could Impact Business 

In New Jersey, the second-most powerful Democrat says now isn’t the time to push a permanent indoor smoking ban on casinos.

It’s an industry that’s struggling quite a bit,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) told Bloomberg this week.

“The argument before was that you’re going to chase away a percentage of their business, and nobody’s been able to disburse that thought process,” Sweeney continued.

The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), which lobbies lawmakers in the Trenton capital on behalf of the nine casinos in Atlantic City, deeply opposes eliminating tobacco smoke on gaming floors.

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 that benefits the state and local economy, as well as New Jersey seniors and persons with disabilities,” the association said in a statement.

CANJ says gaming revenue numbers can be misleading due to the ongoing surge in iGaming and sports betting. Brick-and-mortar GGR plunged nearly 44 percent last year, while revenue from internet play more than doubled.

Land-based gaming is far more profitable for casinos than online. Atlantic City casinos share their online revenue with their third-party interactive providers, and also make money on physical gamblers through food and beverage, entertainment, and hotel stays.

Future Consideration

Some lawmakers in New Jersey say it’s only a matter of time before cigarettes are permanently extinguished inside Atlantic City casinos. 

New Jersey Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has been advocating for a full smoking ban for years.

It doesn’t make sense that it’s not been banned,” Vitale stated.

Vitale is one of three cosponsors of recently introduced legislation that would close the indoor smoking loophole afforded to casinos in the state’s Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006.