Atlantic City

New Jersey: casino smoking ban bill picks up more bipartisan support; trade body reiterates opposition

New Jersey's Senate.
Reading time 2:40 min

A proposed bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos is picking up more bipartisan support. The legislation, if passed, would amend New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act to include casinos, which are currently exempted from the law. A similar bill to the one now gaining traction died without a vote in last year’s legislative session.

On Monday, Sen. Michael Testa, Republican, said he was adding his backing to the bill as a co-sponsor, joining fellow Republican Vince Polistina and Democrats Shirley Turner, Joseph Vitale, Patrick Diegnan, Teresa Ruiz and Vin Gopal.

"Casino workers should have the same right to work in a safe and healthy environment as any other worker in our state," Testa said, according to The Press of Atlantic City. "We can both protect the health of casino workers and their guests while safeguarding our state's thriving gaming industry."

New Jersey Sen. Michael Testa

But while more bipartisan support is welcomed news for backers of the initiative, it still remains unclear whether the state’s Democratic political leadership will allow it to move forward, further reports Associated Press.

The chances are unclear, given a record of prior failed attempts. The bill has now been referred to a Senate committee that is meeting on Thursday; however, the casino smoking legislation is not on its agenda.

Casino workers in the state have long pushed for a ban to be introduced in Atlantic City, seeking to eliminate the loophole in the state’s current smoking law. Smoking within venues was banned as a Covid-19 transmission-prevention measure in 2020, but the ban expired in April 2021: casino employees have since tried to get it reinstituted.

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.

"We have support from Republicans and Democrats, as well as legislators across New Jersey, because they recognize that it's wrong to treat us differently than every other worker in our state," said Nicola Vitola, a Borgata dealer and leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE), reports local media. "Senator Testa understands the urgency of our fight, and we are grateful that he is joining us to get this bill across the finish line."

While bipartisan support has been gathering around the bill, and Gov. Murphy has said he would sign the ban into law should the Legislature pass legislation on the matter, the proposal has seen opposition from the Casino Association of New Jersey, a trade association representing venues in Atlantic City.

Officials with the association had previously warned that forcing smokers outside could turn away potential customers to casinos in the city. It has even been suggested venues could lose up to 16% of their businesses. The association has now reiterated its stance on Monday, in a new statement.

Joe Lupo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey

"Banning smoking completely and permanently would have long-term financial implications for the industry and the region, placing Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with Pennsylvania casinos where smoking is permitted," said Joe Lupo, president of the association and of the Hard Rock Atlantic City casino. 

Lupo further noted that the land-based casino industry in Atlantic City has not yet overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19, with revenues dipping below the levels posted in the pre-pandemic year of 2019

"A decline in our customer base would also cause economic hardship to a large portion of the 20,000 employees who rely on the tips and customer volume that our industry provides,” the association president said. “Any policy changes that will result in decreased visitation, job loss and additional economic harm to our region should be the last thing we consider as the industry works diligently to rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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