New Jersey Casino Smoking Ban Back on the Table
The New Jersey legislature is deliberating a bill that could significantly change the ambiance of the New Jersey casinos in Atlantic City. That’s because it would impose a comprehensive ban on indoor smoking.
The proposed legislation, which is gaining momentum, aims to eliminate the current exemption for designated casino smoking areas under the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act.
The bill, identified as S264, is scheduled for a critical early December hearing by the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee.
The bill has seen considerable bipartisan support, with 26 sponsors in the Senate and 57 in the Assembly. Currently, smoking is allowed on about 20% of the casino floors in Atlantic City. This policy is a holdover from the temporary lift of a smoking ban implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proponents of the bill argue that it is a necessary step to protect casino employees and guests from the dangers of secondhand smoke. They point to health risks like heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory illnesses, which are significantly heightened in environments where smoking is permitted.
Supporters and Opposition Speak Up
Groups like CEASE (Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects) have been vocal at hearings, emphasizing the health hazards caused by secondhand smoke and advocating for a smoke-free working environment.
Despite the health-driven motivation behind the bill, it faces opposition from various stakeholders who fear economic repercussions.
Some argue that a complete smoking ban could lead to a decline in revenues for Atlantic City casinos, potentially driving gamblers to neighboring states where smoking inside casinos is still allowed.
The bill also proposes banning smoking at New Jersey horse race betting venues, such as the Meadowlands Racing complex in East Rutherford.
The concern that businesses may lose out if a ban is enacted is echoed by members of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey and the powerful Unite Here Local 54 hospitality workers’ union. They warn of possible economic downturns and a shift in the gambling landscape if the ban is implemented.
The newly appointed head of Unite Here Local 54, Donna DeCaprio, earlier this year set out her stance on casino smoking – and she’s against a ban.
“Unite Here Local 54 continues to fight for a safe working environment for all workers. However, the smoking ban bill, in its current form, would be catastrophic for Atlantic City workers, Atlantic County residents, and the State of New Jersey, as a whole,” DeCaprio said last week.
The general public in Atlantic City is narrowly in favor of a ban, according to a poll published by Stockton University in 2022. Around 60% of New Jersey residents are against casino smoking, the poll said.
Legislative Time Line
The debate reflects a classic conflict between health advocacy and economic interests, and one that has been going on for decades.
Despite the potential opposition, New Jersey lawmakers are at this time committed to pushing the bill forward. Senators have proposed it for a so-called lame duck session, a period known for rapid advancements of various bills that are considered contentious or high impact.
This indicates the seriousness with which lawmakers are considering this issue. Should the bill pass this committee stage on November 30, it will then be considered by the House and Senate before implementation.
That could still mean a rocky ride for the legislation, which is aiming to put to bed a complex debate that has been ongoing for nearly two decades. Opinions and actions on the topic are mixed across the U.S. casino business. Most of the Nevada casinos in Las Vegas operate on a partitioned smoking basis, with only one or two Sin City casino gaming floors fully smoke-free.
The Venetian and the Palazzo recently reintroduced smoking in most gaming floor areas after banning it during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.