Will 2023 mark the end of smoking in Atlantic City, NJ casinos?
ATLANTIC CITY — Trying to make sure the idea doesn't remain on the back burner, casino workers who are concerned about the impacts of secondhand smoke on their health have floated a new deadline for approving legislation that would close a loophole in New Jersey's Smoke-Free Air Act.
Members of CEASE — Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects — released a video on Tuesday, ahead of Gov. Phil Murphy's State of the State address, urging lawmakers to pass a casino smoking ban by Apr. 15.
The date marks 17 years since the state's smoke-free law went into effect, creating a prohibition on smoking at indoor public spaces and workplaces. Since then, it's been expanded to include beaches and parks.
"This makes us essentially the only group of workers in the state forced to choose between our health and a paycheck," said Pete Naccarelli, a dealer at Borgata.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, smoking was banned inside Atlantic City casinos. Smoking returned in early July 2021.
Bipartisan legislation to eliminate the smoking ban exemption for casinos was introduced last winter, but has not yet received even a committee vote, despite more than 70 sponsors across the Senate and Assembly.
Gov. Murphy has said he'd look favorably on such a measure, suggesting that Atlantic City would still thrive with a smoking ban in place.
In June 2022, a report released by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming found that "banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue" — perhaps as an effect of the pandemic.
"The casinos are stalling and will always find a reason for why now is not the right time," Lamont White, a longtime casino table games dealer, said in the new CEASE video.
The Atlantic City casino industry is opposed to an all-out ban on smoking, saying it will reduce their revenue and likely cost jobs.
As recently as this month, Unite Here Local 54, which represents casino and hospitality workers in the area, expressed concerns about the impact of a ban, according to NJ Spotlight. President Bob McDevitt told the news outlet that New Jersey should wait for Pennsylvania to ban smoking in casinos before making the move itself.
Local 54 has not responded to New Jersey 101.5's request for comment on this story. Neither have the offices of Senate President Nicholas Scutari or Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
"These bills will pass easily. The only remaining hurdle is leadership. The legislature has the power to save lives by urging action on a popular bill that a strong majority of New Jerseyans support," Borgata dealer Nicole Vitola said in the CEASE video.
Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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