Fairleigh Dickinson University poll

New Jersey: Poll shows residents oppose casino expansion; favor limiting smoking over a full ban

Atlantic City.
Reading time 3:42 min

According to the results of a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, a majority of New Jersey residents do not want to see casino gaming expanded into other parts of the state. Additionally, while casino workers in Atlantic City struggle to gather support for a smoking ban at their workplaces, the poll showed a small number of residents support a total smoking ban in the area. 

Survey results were released on Thursday by the University, showing that 51% of the 801 residents polled oppose new casinos in the state, while only 37% support it. New Jersey is currently home to nine brick-and-mortar casinos, all located in Atlantic City. 

The opposition stretches across political affiliation as a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents agree on the matter. Only one age group (31-44 year-olds) supports the expansion, representing 47% to 39% of those polled. However, that is offset by New Jersey seniors, who oppose it by 65% to a 25% margin. 

The topic arises once again as New York is expected to begin a process soon to award up to three new casino licenses in the state. The licenses are slated to be granted to sites in New York City or the surrounding area. 

Dan Cassino, an FDU politics and government professor and executive director of the poll, pointed out that views on casino expansion in New Jersey have been “crystallized" for years. "None of the arguments that have been made in favor of expansion have made any dent," he said. The numbers of the latest poll are nearly identical to the results from a similar FDU Poll six years ago.

According to Cassino, competition from new casinos opening soon in New York City, and the “endless search for new sources of revenue”, puts pressure on the state to do so too. “But if the state wants those casinos they are going to have to change a lot of minds,” he added. 

Opposition to casino expansion may be one of the few remaining bipartisan issues in the state, where 50% of Democrats oppose it, along with 54% of Republicans and 53% of independents. Any expansion of casinos would require a vote on a constitutional amendment. Back in 2016, such an amendment failed, 77 to 23. 

When it comes to the potential introduction of a smoking ban, only 29% have expressed their intention to see it enforced in casinos, creating a truly smoke-free experience in casinos. On the other hand, 57% said smoking should be limited, supporting the status quo on smoking in casinos. The remaining 12% said patrons should be able to smoke anywhere. 

Lawmakers in Trenton are considering a bill to expand the state’s smoke-free law to casinos. Workers at the properties back the legislation, but operators fear an outright ban would threaten revenues and jobs. 

Cassino described the smoking ban issue as “a balancing act” for legislators, as it protects workers from secondhand smoke, but no one wants to risk hurting the casino’s bottom lines and having to bail out Atlantic City.”

Smoking was banned in most indoor areas in New Jersey in 2006. However, casinos remained an exception. Nowadays, Atlantic City properties allow smoking in about one-quarter of their gaming areas. 

Back in October, a group of Atlantic City casino workers opposing indoor smoking announced their plans to expand their efforts beyond New Jersey. The Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) group, which was formed last year in an effort to protect casino workers from secondhand smoke, unveiled the ambitions to extend into new states as G2E unfolded in Las Vegas, proving the growing importance of the issue and the debate around casino smoking.

In addition to plans for Nevada, CEASE has opened a new dedicated social media group for Pennsylvania, confirming an expansion into the Keystone State. Elsewhere during their Vegas visit, members of the group approached industry stakeholders in an effort to gather support for their cause. Among them is slots influencer Brian Christopher, who reportedly vowed to only visit smoke-free casinos starting January, according to the group.

September also reunited major gambling companies' executives at the latest edition of the East Coast Gaming Congress in New Jersey. The event was held against a backdrop of Atlantic City casino workers protesting outside of Hard Rock, demanding a bill banning indoor casino smoking to be passed in the state.

Although a fair share of pressing industry issues were covered at the congress, one was notably absent from the keynote lineup: indoor smoking at casinos, as a panel on the matter was canceled mere days ahead of the reunion after Mark Giannantonio, head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, pulled out the week before.

Irate that the session to discuss the proposed smoking ban was snuffed out, casino workers and patrons opposed to smoking in gaming halls held a protest outside the meeting. About 100 people rallied in the rain underneath a walkway outside Hard Rock AC, demanding the state Legislature act on a bill that has the support of more than half of state lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy, but which has been stalled without a hearing in a Senate or Assembly committee.

The panel discussion on casino smoking was canceled amid the Atlantic City casinos’ trade association's long-standing opposition to a ban. Giannantonio had previously stated the CANJ has been “very transparent” in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have “a significant adverse effect” on Atlantic City, seemingly the reason why the association decided to not participate in the panel session.

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