A bill that seeks to suspend smoking in casinos across Atlantic City is getting more and more bipartisan support. However, it still remains unclear whether the Democratic political leadership of the state will give the measure the green light, allowing it to move forward.
The proposed piece of legislation, like the one that local lawmakers did not even include in a vote during last year’s legislative session, would make an amendment in the Smoke-Free Air Act of the state of New Jersey, so the ban also includes casino venues. For the time being, the gambling halls are subject to a special exemption from the abovementioned piece of legislation, with smoking being allowed on no more than 20% of the overall gambling floor of Atlantic City casinos.
The beginning of the week saw the Republican state Senator Michael Testa share that he has supported the proposed piece of legislation as a co-sponsor to his fellow Republican Vince Polistina and Democrats Joseph Vitale, Vin Gopal, Teresa Ruiz, Shirley Turner and Patrick Diegnan.
According to Senator Testa, casino workers should be given the same rights to work in a healthy and safe environment as any other worker in New Jersey. He further explained that state lawmakers could both protect the health of both casinos’ staff members and patrons while keeping the success of the local gambling sector.
New Jersey’s Casino Association Claims Smoking Ban Would Put AC Casinos at Competitive Disadvantage
Although the proposed bill has so far received bipartisan support, the chances of the piece of legislation are still unclear. The bill has been referred to a Senate Committee, which is set to have a meeting on February 3rd, but the casino smoking ban bill has not been included in the Committee’s agenda.
A spokesperson for Assembly speaker Craig Coughlin explained that if a piece of legislation is reintroduced there, the speaker would review the piece of legislation thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Over the past 12 months, a group of health advocates and casino workers has been trying to initiate a push in order to make sure they close the aforementioned loophole in terms of casinos’ gambling floors in New Jersey’s smoking ban law. The leader of the anti-smoking group, Nicola Vitola, has shared that the campaigners have received support from both Republicans and Democrats, and from state legislators.
Phil Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, has revealed that he will sign a casino smoking ban into law in case the state Legislature passes such a piece of legislation.
On the other hand, New Jersey’s Casino Association, which represents the casinos in Atlantic City, confirmed its position on the matter, saying that the implementation of the smoking ban would result in layoffs, as well as in tax revenue and money losses.
As the president of the association, Joe Lupo, explained, a full permanent ban on smoking would have long-term financial effects on the local gambling industry and the region that would put Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with casinos in Pennsylvania, where smoking is currently allowed. Mr. Lupo shared that a decline in the casinos’ customer base would result in economic distress to a large proportion of the 20,000 casino staff members who rely on customer volume and tips.
The retail casino industry in Atlantic City already saw a 5% decline in its revenue below the pre-pandemic levels in 2019. At the time of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, the city saw its casinos cease operations for three and a half months. When the casinos resumed operation in July 2020, smoking was officially banned by Governor Phil Murphy as part of the virus transmission prevention measure. That ban expired in April 2021.