A long-standing proposal in New Jersey’s state Legislature would close the carveout in the Smokefree Air Act, and ban smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos. While Governor Phil Murphy has said he would sign the bill should it arrive at his desk, not everyone is in favor. Pushback against the effort has been gaining momentum, with many worrying that a ban would send gamblers across the Delaware River. The Unite Here Local 54, which represents Atlantic City casino employees, has now come against the bill.
Bob McDevitt leads the Unite Here Local 54, which represents more than 10,000 hospitality workers, many of them in Atlantic City. He says New Jersey should wait to ban smoking until Pennsylvania does, in order to avoid a competitive disadvantage.
“If people opt not to go, that means they’re not staying in the hotel, that means there’s no reason to have them make the hotel beds. It won’t just have an effect on folks who are dealers, and folks who are bartenders,” said McDevitt, as reported by NJ Spotlight News. "If you take away the option to smoke, and you allow it in Pennsylvania, there’s going to be a net drop in gaming in New Jersey."
The five casinos in the Philadelphia area are permitted to designate up to 50% of their gaming floor space for smoking. Nonetheless, two of them, Parx and Rivers Philadelphia, have opted to go smoke-free. In comparison, New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act provided exemptions for Atlantic City casinos to allow indoor tobacco use on up to 25% of their gaming floor.
However, when casinos re-opened during the pandemic, New Jersey gamblers were not allowed to smoke indoors for almost a full year. Co-founders of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects Lamont White and Pete Naccarelli said gamblers were not dissuaded by a ban on smoking.
“They went outside like they do everywhere else, and then they came back in and played. I’ve seen gamblers – the gamblers will swim through a moat of alligators to get back to a blackjack table,” said White, as reported by the cited source.
While the smoking ban bill has gained enough sponsors to make it likely it passes the state legislature and Senate, the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) has warned lawmakers that eliminating smoking would hurt gaming. If fewer people come to gamble, the trade body claims, Atlantic City resorts will see other revenue, such as hotel, dining, entertainment, and shopping, decline.
But a full ban has also seen rejection from residents. Back in November, the Fairleigh Dickinson University reported the results of a poll that showed that only a small number of residents support a total smoking ban in the area.
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.