ew Jersey banned smoking and drinking in casinos when they reopened last year, and now as the casinos are opening again, tobacco opponents are urging elected officials and casino operators to make the restriction permanent.
The casino smoking ban in New Jersey will be lifted next month. Many state officials say they’re not ready to advocate for a smoke-free Atlantic City.
Senate President Steve Sweeney stated: “It’s an industry that’s struggling quite a bit. The argument before was that you’re going to chase away a percentage of their business, and nobody’s been able to disburse that thought process.”
The pandemic has given anti-tobacco activists new ammunition in the U.S., where 75% of states have some form of smoking ban. Current and former smokers are more likely to get severely ill from Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the pandemic, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan issued temporary bans at gambling destinations to help cut transmission of the virus as venues reopened. The directives reignited calls to outlaw the practice permanently, according to BNN Bloomberg.
The state collected $255 million in tax revenue from Atlantic City casinos in fiscal 2020. The casino money is deployed to provide transportation assistance, vocational rehabilitation, and other programs for seniors and those with disabilities.
The Casino Association of New Jersey, representing Atlantic City’s nine gambling resorts, says a post-pandemic smoking crackdown would send patrons to neighboring Pennsylvania. New Jersey casinos, boosted by Internet and sports betting, had total gambling revenue of $3.29 billion in 2019, the most since 2010. Though remote gambling soared during the pandemic, gambling revenue dropped by 18% in 2020, to $2.87 billion, after casinos were temporarily closed and re-opened with capacity and other restrictions.
“A smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City, resulting in a decline in customers which would cause job loss, and ultimately a decline in tax revenue that benefits the state and local economy, as well as New Jersey seniors and persons with disabilities,” the Casino Association noted in a statement.
MGM Resorts International operates smoke-free casinos in Massachusetts and New York in addition to its Borgata in New Jersey. In September it began promoting its remodeled MGM Park property in Las Vegas as the first smoke-free casino on the Strip, the only one among its peers. It also has three non-casino Las Vegas hotels that are tobacco-free.
Some casino hotels in Las Vegas, charge a premium for guests who want to smoke in their rooms. Caesars Entertainment, for example, lists a smoking accommodation over the Memorial Day holiday weekend at its Harrah’s property on the Strip for $392 a night, or $163 more than non-smoking.