If you thought an Atlantic City casino smoking ban would get the support of casino workers, think again.
This week, Bob McDevitt, president of the union that represents thousands of Atlantic City casino employees, said the union opposes a bill that would ban smoking at casinos. His main argument against the ban?
“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.”
At first glance, the union’s opposition to the ban is a surprise in light of the health risks that cigarette smoke poses, but McDevitt’s argument has an important nuance to it.
Union boss wants to wait until Pennsylvania casinos ban smoking
McDevitt argued that lawmakers should wait to pass a smoking ban until Pennsylvania bans smoking at casinos. The thought process here is pretty simple. There are no casinos in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City.
So, any gamblers who smoke and live on the NJ-Pennsylvania border would likely just hop over to Philadelphia so they can gamble and smoke at the same time. How severe would the impact of a smoking ban be?
Mark Giannantonio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, believes it will be significant. Speaking with the New York Times earlier this year, he referred to a Spectrum Gaming Group study that projected a smoking ban would cause up to 11% in lost revenue for NJ casinos.
Part of that revenue would disappear because gamblers would travel to Pennsylvania. Another revenue leak would occur when smokers leave the gaming floor at Atlantic City casinos to take a smoke break.
Estimates are that casinos would lose around $8.31 an hour due to smoke breaks.
Revenue loss from casino smoking bans isn’t a certainty
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy banned smoking at casinos during the coronavirus pandemic. Amid that ban, casinos saw 11% revenue growth in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2019.
That number indicates that NJ casinos wouldn’t suffer too much if a permanent ban went into effect.
Additionally, banning smoking isn’t a guarantee of decreased revenue. For example, Pennsylvania’s Parx Casino and Mount Airy Casino haven’t lost revenue after they went smoke-free, according to PlayPennsylvania.
Smoking poses grave risks to casino workers
McDevitt’s push to postpone the smoking ban might be at the expense of the health of some of the workers he represents.
The Centers for Disease Control noted that one study found that the air in casinos that allow smoking is so bad that it could cause cardiovascular disease after just two hours of exposure.
Furthermore, the CDC said:
“Smoke-free laws have a high level of public support and compliance, and research has shown that smoke-free laws do not negatively affect sales or employment in the hospitality industry.”
What’s ahead for the New Jersey casinos smoking ban?
The bill that would ban smoking in New Jersey casinos has bipartisan support. More than half of the legislature’s members have signed as co-sponsors.
Also, Murphy has said he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk. Based on these two factors, it’s highly likely the bill will pass this year.
The 2023 legislative session begins next week at 2 p.m. on Jan. 10 and runs through March. At some point over the next three months, we should see the bill go to the floor for a vote.
Meanwhile, there isn’t much movement on a smoking ban in Pennsylvania’s legislature. Two bills were introduced in 2022, but both are languishing in committees.