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Panel on proposed Atlantic City casino smoking ban scrapped from East Coast Gaming Congress after CANJ head pulls out

Mark Giannantonio, head of the Casino Association of New Jersey.
Reading time 2:16 min

A panel discussion on whether Atlantic City should ban smoking is being scrapped after Resorts Casino President Mark Giannantonio — who has recently become head of the Atlantic City casinos' trade association — pulled out. The cancellation means that the East Coast Gaming Congress, which had scheduled the panel for its upcoming edition this month, will now lack any discussion on ending indoor smoking

The news comes as New Jersey casino employees continue their push in favor of the indoor smoking ban, which remains a contentious issue in various states. In the case of the Garden State, the Governor and more than half the state Legislature support a bill ceasing indoor smoking in casinos. The proposed ban was set to be discussed in a now-canceled panel at the East Coast Gaming Congress later this month in Atlantic City, which would have been the first detailed public airing of the issue.

Giannantonio's decision to pull out, in line with the Casino Association of New Jersey's long-standing opposition to the ban, further shows just how thorny the dispute has become. While workers have been pushing for over two years for an indoor smoking ban, claiming secondhand smoke harms their health and that of casino customers, gambling properties allege that smoking customers would abandon the casinos if a prohibition is enforced, leading to lost jobs and plunging revenue.

The bill that would cease indoor smoking at casinos is still pending in the state Legislature. While it enjoys broad bipartisan support there, it has remained stalled, with no fixed date for voting yet. An identical bill died in last year’s session, even though Governor Phil Murphy has said he would sign it if it passes. 

As reported by Fox Business, Giannantonio stated that the Casino Association of New Jersey has been “very transparent” in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have “a significant adverse effect" on Atlantic City. "We believe that more time is needed to devise and implement a solution that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs and benefits to seniors,” he added. 

Despite moves in numerous states including New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and others to implement casino smoking bans, the East Coast Gaming Congress will now not feature any discussion on the matter. It is also expected the issue won't be featured at G2E.

Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, which helped organize the East Coast Gaming Congress, stated the group tried to find a replacement from the casino industry after Giannantonio withdrew from the panel, but was unable to secure one on short notice.

The revised schedule for the conference, issued on Friday, did not include the planned session on casino smoking. Other panelists were to have been Cynthia Hallet, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, and Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, which owns the Parx Casino in Pennsylvania, where smoking is banned. 

“It’s remarkably telling that Atlantic City casinos couldn’t find one person to publicly defend their position in favor of indoor smoking. They know they cannot win on the facts”, Hallett said, arguing executives are avoiding the issue. "We are disappointed that this conversation will be missing from the formal conference program, but rest assured: the presence of casino workers who have been fighting for their health will be felt next week."

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