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Up In Smoke

Atlantic City Casinos face crossroads as smoking ban legislation advances


To puff or not to puff? That’s the question that has faced New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators in recent weeks as both states have considered casino smoking bans.

As the debate over casino smoking bans continues to unfold, we find ourselves amidst a contentious discussion with perspectives ranging from health concerns to economic impacts.

In December, a unique protest unfolded during a New Jersey Senate Health Committee meeting, where casino workers, members of C.E.A.S.E. (Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects), and other casino union members lit up to make a bold statement against smoking in casinos. The issue has gained traction, with voices on both sides of the debate passionately expressing their views.

Casino worker Lamont White, speaking at the protest, described the challenges faced by those working in a smoking environment. “Two days ago, I was on a table with two guys smoking cigars. It’s horrible,” he shared. “Your eyes start burning. My throat gets raw, and I don’t want to breathe.”

While neither state has implemented an outright smoking ban in casinos, there have been significant developments. In New Jersey, a long-sought ban on smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos recently passed a crucial legislative hurdle, reigniting hope for those advocating for a smoke-free environment. The bill closes the nonsmoking loophole that exempted casinos and is now on its way to the full Senate for a vote. Should the state Senate pass the bill in a full vote of members, an identical measure would have to pass the General Assembly before Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy can sign it into law—which he has said he will do.

“There could be a compromise put on the table that could bring the votes … that will ensure it passes,” Sen. Fred Madden (D) said.

Some in the casino industry are against an outright ban on lighting up, arguing that many gamblers enjoy puffing a cigarette while playing some slots or hitting the table games and that a ban could have adverse effects on the state’s gaming economy. Current New Jersey law already permits smoking only on 25% of the casino floor.

The debate has stirred diverse opinions within the casino industry. Some argue against an outright ban, citing potential negative impacts on the gaming economy and may lead to job loss, while others, like C.E.A.S.E. and the United Auto Workers union, believe that a smoking ban would be beneficial for business. Polls indicating that 74% of people in New Jersey and Philadelphia would be more likely to visit smoke-free Atlantic City casinos add an additional layer to the discussion.

As the legislation progresses, concerns about potential job losses and adverse effects on the economy are at the forefront. The Casino Association of New Jersey argues that the bill, as drafted, could significantly impact Atlantic City’s economy, with a broad coalition of stakeholders expressing opposition.

“It is clear that more and more people realize that the bill, as drafted, will have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City’s economy,” the Casino Association of New Jersey said. “A broad coalition of stakeholders – workers, seniors, people with disabilities, civil rights organizations, labor, business, community leaders, and a number of legislators – oppose this legislation, recognizing that it will hurt working-class people, endanger thousands of jobs and jeopardize the millions of dollars in tax revenue dedicated to New Jersey’s seniors and people with disabilities.”

The journey toward a resolution continues, with compromises being considered, and the balance between health considerations and economic impacts remains a key focus. We will keep you updated on further developments as this significant legislative debate unfolds.

Where the efforts to ban casino smoking will ultimately end up remains to be seen, but the issue should remain a hot topic in the coming years. What are your thoughts? Should casinos tell smokers to butt out and protect dealers and staff? Or should the option be left up to visitors themselves? Is there a better compromise that both sides should consider? Drop us a letter or email with your own thoughts on the issue.

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