Amid workers' push

Hard Rock chairman warns New Jersey Gov. Murphy on "economic challenges" of a casino smoking ban

Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming, at Hard Rock Atlantic City's meeting this year.
Reading time 2:27 min

Following rallies and demands by groups of Atlantic City casino workers, asking not only for a smoking ban law in the state but also for a salary adjustment, Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, has recently warned New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy about the “economic challenges” of banning smoking in casinos.

“I don’t think I was trying to change the governor’s mind. It was a general conversation about the economic challenges of a smoking ban and the impact it would have”, the chairman told The Associated Press, as Murphy has already stated that he will sign the bill if it passes. A spokeswoman of his office said Monday he maintains that stance. HRI runs Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in the state.

“We operate in many states where smoking is not allowed. When you look at markets where smoking has been banned, there have been significant double-digit declines in casino revenue," he continued.

On the other hand, anti-smoking advocates claim casinos are overstating the potential economic impacts of banning smoking, and project a customer and revenue recovery after an initial adjustment period. 

Jim Allen's speech mirrors the Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, which has sent a letter to state Senate President Nicholas Scutari urging him not to greenlight the prohibition, arguing that it would imply “lost jobs for our union and throughout the state” and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs. 

On a contrasting note, the union that represents casino dealers in Atlantic City -the United Auto Workers (UAW)- rejected these arguments, referring to them as “scare tactics” employed by casinos, while noting that nothing is “scarier” than the health risks of being repeatedly exposed to secondhand smoke.

A rally organized by anti-smoking casino employee group C.E.A.S.E.

This was stated in a letter sent to lawmakers. In it, UAW asked lawmakers to hold hearings to close the loophole in state law, eliminating smoking in all New Jersey workplaces including casinos. “It is simply unacceptable knowing what we know about the dangers of secondhand smoke. No worker in the state of NJ should be forced to breathe cancer-causing chemicals every single day."  

The measure to ban smoking within casinos has 16 Senate co-sponsors and 37 Assembly co-sponsors, representing nearly half of each chamber, according to Chris Moyer, a spokesman for casino smoking opponents. However, the bill has sat untouched for months in the state Legislature.

In the meantime, the casinos’ financial picture in the region has been slowly improving, with properties in Atlantic City collectively seeing their profitability increase in the first quarter of this year, compared to 2021 and to the pre-pandemic period as well. However, only four of the nine casinos individually reported higher gross operating profits than they did in the first quarter of 2019. 

Revenue won from in-person gamblers surpassed the level of April 2019, before the coronavirus hit, which is an encouraging metric for Atlantic City’s casino industry. However, much of those increases were attributable to the two newest casinos, Hard Rock and Ocean, as has been the case for the past few years.

Atlantic City casino workers on strike at Taj Mahal Casino, 2016

However, and in contrast with this economic panorama, casino workers in the city are currently demanding an adjustment. Last week, union casino workers formed a picket line on the Boardwalk in front of Tropicana Atlantic City after contracts with the city’s nine casinos expired Wednesday. A job fair was later hosted in the city, only days after the picket took place in demand for better salary conditions.

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