NJ Senate President Denies Casino Smoking Mothballed Until 2023

Posted on: November 2, 2022, 11:17h. 

Last updated on: November 2, 2022, 12:04h.

New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is denying allegations that his Democratic-controlled Legislature is holding off on considering a bill ending casino smoking in Atlantic City until the 2023 election is determined.

New Jersey Nicholas Scutari Atlantic City casino smoking
New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari claims he didn’t say state Democrats are holding off on considering casino smoking legislation until the November 2023 election. Scutari instead claims the delay is because of the considerable impact that banning indoor casino smoking would have on South Jersey. (Image: New Jersey Globe)

Next November, each of New Jersey’s 80 General Assembly seats and 40 state Senate seats will be up for election. Scutari is refuting recent reports that his Democratic Party in Trenton is stalling the casino smoking conversation until after the all-important state election.

Lamont White, a table game dealer at the Borgata who amid the pandemic cofounded “Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE),” voiced claims that his recent trip to Trenton didn’t go as planned. White told NJ Advance Media that he approached Scutari inside the New Jersey State House building to tell him that any consideration of the smoking legislation would be much appreciated.

He turned and looked at me and said, ‘That depends on who wins down there,'” White said. Pressed to clarify what he meant, White claimed that Scutari answered, “The election.”

Two identical pieces of legislation seeking to extinguish Atlantic City casino smoking  Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151 — have sat in their respective chambers without movement for many months. That’s despite each bill having adequate support by way of cosponsors to send the measures to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) desk.

Hallway Jargon

Scutari spoke to reporters seeking comment on his rumored remarks to White. He said that he has no recollection of saying the 2023 election is why the casino smoking debate is remaining on hold.

“[I was] flippantly talking about stuff,” Scutari said. “I was with five guys chuckling. I don’t recall saying anything to them … You’ve got to be careful with every word you say,” Scutari conceded. “But I don’t remember [saying] anything.”

Asked whether the casino smoking legislation might gain movement before 2023, the Democrats’ top legislative official said, “There’s always a chance.”

Some in the Garden State believe ending casino smoking in Atlantic City would be considered a win for Republicans and give Atlantic City’s three Republican lawmakers — Sen. Vincent Polistina and Assemblypersons Don Guardian and Claire Swift — a major campaign platform to run on.

Scutari dismisses such beliefs.

“This is a huge issue for South Jersey and the casinos,” Scutari explained. “I’m not a fan of smoking. I’ve never smoked. But it’s a larger consideration. We’ve had a lot of meetings on the issue.”

Casinos Want Smoking

The Casino Association of New Jersey has been steadfast in its opposition to ending indoor casino smoking. The lobbying arm of the nine properties in Atlantic City commissioned a study that suggested that gaming revenue would decline by as much as 25% if smoking was forced outside.

A quarter reduction in gross gaming revenue, CANJ contends, would result in more than 2,000 jobs being cut across the industry.

White says a more independent study reached a different conclusion: that gaming wouldn’t be negatively impacted. And even if smoking being outlawed would hurt revenue, the CEASE leader says workers’ health should outweigh the casinos’ bottom lines.

“Every day that goes by means more diagnoses of cancer or asthma or a heart attack that is related to breathing second-hand smoke for eight hours a day. I hope that no politician would put political interests ahead of the lives of thousands of casino dealers. We will not stop fighting for legislators to move this bill immediately,” White concluded.