Atlantic City Casinos Voice Opposition to Smoke-Free Gaming Effort

Posted on: April 16, 2021, 12:04h. 

Last updated on: April 16, 2021, 02:34h.

Atlantic City casinos say efforts to make their gaming floors entirely smoke-free would greatly damage their business operations. 

Atlantic City casino smoking New Jersey
A video poker player enjoys a cigarette while gambling in Nevada. Back east, anti-smoking efforts to ban indoor smoking inside Atlantic City casinos are underway. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Anti-smoking advocates this week celebrated the 15th anniversary of New Jersey’s passage of the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006. As the name implies, the legislation ensures workers have a workplace that is free of smoke. However, the statute included a caveat that excludes casinos in Atlantic City from adhering to the ban on indoor smoke.

COVID-19 resulted in numerous health safety measures being implemented at casinos across the nation. One in Atlantic City indicated that casinos temporarily suspend indoor smoking. Anti-smoking advocates say state officials should pass legislation that permanently outlaws smoking indoors in any public setting. 

“We’ve seen it’s possible for casinos to operate with smoking bans, because they had no choice,” said New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood). Huttle plans to sponsor legislation to outlaw casino smoking.

Previous attempts to include casinos into the Smoke-Free Air Act have been unsuccessful. But Huttle believes attitudes towards smoking continue to change.

“This time is definitely different,” the Democratic lawmaker told the Associated Press. “For over a year, we’ve been battling with a respiratory virus, one that disproportionately impacts smokers.”

Casinos Claim Smoking Essential

The Casino Association of New Jersey, the lobbying group that represents the nine Atlantic City casino resorts in the Trenton capital, was quick to rejection any legislative effort to extinguish casino smoking. 

Banning smoking permanently would have long-term financial implications for the industry and the region,” a statement from the group declared. “Going completely nonsmoking would place Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other nearby casinos that allow smoking.”

The association says the importance of air quality for guests and employees is extremely important, which is why casinos have “invested in state-of-the-art air filtration systems that circulate fresh air.”

“With the onset of the pandemic, independent experts reviewed our air filtration systems, confirming their effectiveness in exchanging large volumes of air and keeping the air quality fresh and clean,” the association added.

Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore reports that smokers who contract COVID-19 are much more prone to serious complications, including death. However, the leading hospital says smoking and the relationship of spreading the coronavirus “is still unclear.”

Casinos Faring Well with No Smoking

The Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights issued a statement today saying the argument from casinos that their businesses will be negatively impacted by smoking bans has fallen apart. Pennsylvania’s gaming industry experienced its all-time best revenue month in March, all the while banning indoor smoking at casinos.

“Old arguments from the industry fighting smoke-free policies no longer hold water,” Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, told Casino.org. “This revenue record is a clear sign that Pennsylvania should remain smoke-free, even after the pandemic, because it’s a win-win-win: workers and guests breathe clean air, casinos generate additional profits.”

Currently, 24 states ban smoking indoors at its casinos. They are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.