Rally to NJ state capitol

Atlantic City workers protest smoking ban bill stalled while casino tax break moves faster

Protest of anti-smoking groups at the New Jersey Legislature.
United States
Reading time 1:56 min

Workers for Atlantic City casinos have expressed discontent at New Jersey Legislature's decision to move quickly to pass a bill giving tax breaks to gambling halls while not acting on a measure to permanently prohibit smoking at gaming venues.

About two dozen workers traveled to the state capitol in Trenton on Thursday to hold a protest, in an effort to urge lawmakers to pass the smoking ban, reports The Edwardsville Intelligencer. This continues a nearly year-long campaign to enact the bill, which has sat for over a year without action.

While New Jersey banned all smoking in the casinos early last year, when the coronavirus pandemic first broke out, the restriction was lifted in July this year, a decision protested by workers.

Atlantic City's nine casinos returned to normalcy, allowing the usual smoking on 20% of the casino floor. Should the smoking ban bill get passed, it would end a narrow exemption in the state’s public health law, which prohibits smoking in most indoor places except for gambling venues.

“Why doesn't the state of New Jersey care about us?” said Lamont White, a Borgata dealer who has worked in Atlantic City casinos for 36 years, according to the previously cited news source. ”Why is the Legislature focused on tax cuts for the casinos rather than the health of their workers? Please, don't leave us behind in the smoke."

The smoking ban bill has remained stuck in committees for over a year now. As of recently, outgoing state Senate President Steve Sweeney said discussions were still needed to be held on what to do with the bill: he voiced concerns that, should the prohibition be introduced, the industry could potentially lose business and face an operational disadvantage compared with neighboring competition in Pennsylvania, which allows casino smoking in designated areas.

This has been the same position the Casino Association of New Jersey has taken. According to industry members, venues could lose up to 16% of their businesses. This is a claim casino workers have contested: they point out that Atlantic City casinos did better under the temporary ban than before it was implemented.

While the casino tax break bill could get final votes in the Legislature next week, no voting has been scheduled on the smoking ban bill, which was first introduced in February 2020. It even has yet to have a preliminary hearing in a committee.

A large part of casino workers against indoors smoking has grouped under CEASE: Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects. The anti-smoking advocacy contends that lawmakers are wrongly concentrating their time and efforts on payment relief instead of casino employees’ well-being.

While Gov. Murphy said earlier this year that he’d sign legislation to permanently ban smoking in casinos, CEASE claims priorities have so far been out of line, and that no efforts have been made towards introducing the ban.

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