New Jersey legislators are anticipated to consider a bill that would prohibit indoor smoking at all nine Atlantic City casinos after the November elections. Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151, which are essentially the same, aim to close a loophole that allows casinos and pari-mutuel facilities to allocate up to 25% of their gaming floor for smokers. This exception was provided under New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act.
These bills have lingered in the Trenton capital for several months and have ample backing to be passed over to Gov. Phil Murphy’s office. The governor has iterated multiple times his willingness to sign any legislation enforcing a smoking ban in casinos, horse racing tracks, and off-track betting establishments.
These bills enjoy support from 26 state senators and 54 assembly officials, a majority in both bodies. However, delays in passing these bills have come from the Democratic leadership.
Action on these bills is expected after the November 7 elections, according to recent reports. The upcoming statewide election will have all 40 Senate and 80 Assembly seats up for grabs. The Democrats, who currently own 25 Senate and 46 Assembly seats, are hoping to retain control of both houses.
This smoking ban in casinos is a contentious issue, as many casino executives and the primary union in Atlantic City argue that it will result in loss of thousands of jobs due to reduced gaming revenue. This argument has contributed to the delay in addressing this legislation until the 2024 session.
Campaign group CEASE (Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects) has led the fight against workplace smoking in Atlantic City. While they expressed concern that this delay is detrimental to casino employees’ health, they also welcomed the anticipated legislative action.
CEASE is campaigning that the Senate proceeds with the vote on bipartisan legislation to eradicate indoor smoking in their workplaces. In a statement, CEASE claimed that for over 17 years, these employees have had to choose between their health and income, a choice they deem unacceptable.
Objections to this anti-smoking campaign are expected to come from the casino executives, with the Casino Association of New Jersey expected to lead the pushback.
Opposition to this law comes primarily from the Casino Association of New Jersey and the Unite Here Local 54 labor union, which represents almost 10,000 non-gaming resort employees in the city.
Earlier this year, Unite Here Local 54 President Donna DeCaprio likened a smoking ban to a “suicide pact,” citing a study commissioned by the state casino lobby, which suggests that a smoking ban could lead to an 11% decline in annual gross gaming revenue in the first year after the casinos transition to being smoke-free.
The Casino Association warns this smoking ban could lead to as many as 2,500 job losses and suggests that with most casinos in nearby Philadelphia continuing to allow indoor smoking, smoker-customers might take their business there. Yet, it’s noteworthy that Parx Casino, which is a leading player among Pennsylvania’s 17 brick-and-mortar casinos and located just outside Philadelphia, is entirely smoke-free.