Bill S264

Atlantic City casinos would see permanent ban on smoking under reintroduced Senate bill

In December, Atlantic City casino employees rallied on Trenton, urging legislators to move the smoking ban bill.
United States
Reading time 2:32 min

Legislation to ban smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos has now been reintroduced. A group of state senators is proposing a new bill, S264, which, if passed, would permanently make casinos in the city smoke-free. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Health Committee following its introduction in the Senate.

The measure is backed by six senators, including state Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, the only Republic named as a sponsor, reports The Press of Atlantic City. A companion bill in the Assembly is expected to be prepared and introduced “soon.”

“We applaud this bipartisan group of legislators from across New Jersey who understand that worker health must be a priority,” Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Atlantic City casino workers made the most of the lame-duck session to grow legislative support for closing the casino smoking loophole that puts their health at risk.”

While casino workers in Atlantic City have long asked for a smoking ban to be introduced, venues in the city oppose the proposal. Officials with the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), a trade association that represents gambling facilities in Atlantic City, have warned forcing smokers outside could turn away potential customers. It has been suggested venues could lose up to 16% of their businesses

Senator Vince Polistina said on Wednesday the legislation could come up for a vote within the next month or two, further reports the previously cited news source. He is backing the proposal because he feels casinos have become profitable enough to act on ending the provision in place since 2006, which mandates smoking to be limited to a 25% of a casino floor.

While casino smoking was temporarily banned amid Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the prohibition was lifted last summer, in July. Casino workers heavily protested the reintroduction of smoking, and certain politicians in the state have tried making the ban a permanent one.

December saw Atlantic City casino employees marching on Trenton, urging legislators to move a bill. Workers have also expressed discontent at New Jersey Legislature’s decision to move quickly to pass a bill giving tax breaks to casinos while not acting with similar haste on permanently prohibiting smoking at venues.

“Every day we go to work, we risk our health getting worse and worse,” Nicole Vitola, a dealer at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and co-leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE), said in a statement on Wednesday, retrieved by The Press of Atlantic City

“Especially during yet another wave of COVID cases in our state, this is unacceptable,” Vitola added. “It’s time to get this bill passed as soon as possible, so that we no longer have to choose between our health and a paycheck.” Vitola further said the fight would continue “as long as smoking is allowed” in casinos.

Casino workers have long protested smoking in casinos and the Legislature’s lack of action on the subject. Prior legislation introduced to ban smoking sat for over a year without action. Should a 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.

Outgoing Senate President Steve Sweeney said discussions were still needed to be held on the subject, voicing concerns that, should the prohibition be introduced, the industry could potentially face an operational disadvantage with neighboring competition in Pennsylvania, which allows casino smoking in designated areas.

Should a bill to stop smoking in casinos reach Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, he is likely to sign it into law: Murphy has previously said he would do so. However, casino workers protest that, so far, priorities have been out of line, and that no serious efforts have been made towards introducing the ban.

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