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NJ AG And Union Seek Dismissal Of Atlantic City Casinos Smoking Ban Lawsuit

Written By Katarina Vojvodic | Updated:
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin

Atlantic City’s major casino workers union and New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin want a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by other unions seeking to ban smoking at the city’s nine casinos.

According to the Associated Press, Local 54 of the Unite Here union said in a filing in the state Superior Court that a third of the 10,000 workers would be “at risk of losing their jobs and the means to support their families” if smoking were prohibited. Local 54 represents hotel workers, beverage servers, baggage handlers, public area cleaners, and other employees at the nine casinos.

Platkin said the state’s indoor smoking law “does not deny any group of people equal protection under the law and does not infringe on any purported constitutional right to safety,” demanding the court dismiss the United Auto Workers’ lawsuit, according to AP.

Key takeaways:

  • The current law allows smoking on 25% of the casino floor in Atlantic City. Casino workers say that second-hand smoke varies throughout the gambling floor because those areas are not adjacent.
  • UAW and Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) brought the lawsuit earlier this month seeking to overturn New Jersey’s indoor clean air law that bans smoking in every workplace except casinos. The UAW organization represents workers at Bally’s, Caesars and Tropicana casinos in Atlantic City.
  • A smoking ban has become one of the most debated topics not only in New Jersey but in a few other states where workers expressed health concerns.

Local 54 claims up to 72% of all retail casino revenue comes from smoking zones

Local 54 of the Unite Here union backs compromise legislation introduced earlier this year that would maintain the current 25% smoking limit on the gambling floor.

The proposal would permit smoking in unenclosed zones of the casino floor with slot machines, titled as smoking areas and placed at least 15 feet away from table games. It would also allow the casinos to offer enclosed smoking rooms with separate ventilation systems where no employees would be assigned to work unless they want to.

Donna DeCaprio, president of Local 54, said, according to the Associated Press:

“We support the health and safety of our members and believe that improvements need to be made to the current work environment. A balance must be struck that both protects workers’ health and preserves good jobs.”

She said a total smoking ban would be tragic for Atlantic City, adding that 50% to 72% of all gambling revenue earned from in-person wagering comes from smoking areas.

The union wrote in its court filing: “A total smoking ban would place thousands of jobs at risk, endangering the wages, health and welfare benefits and retirement benefits of Local 54 members and their families.”

As the AP article further states, the union noted that when Atlantic City’s City Council enforced a short-lived total smoking ban in 2008, casino revenues fell by 19.8% within the first week. The union said that led to enacting the current 25% smoking area on the casino floors.

The other side of the coin

After Local 54 filed a motion with the court to dismiss the lawsuit brought by UAW and CEASE, Nicole Vitola issued an official release implying Local 54 has long ties to Big Tobacco.

Vitola, a long-time table games dealer at Borgata and a co-founder of CEASE released the following statement:

“Who knew Local 54 and the Casino Association of New Jersey were the exact same organization? They cite the same misleading ‘study’ – which is based on data from nearly 20 years ago, is irrelevant in today’s economy, and was paid for by the casinos themselves to try to scare legislators.

Instead of fighting for the health and safety of workers, Local 54 is battling in a court of law to allow casinos to keep poisoning their members with toxic second-hand smoke. What world are we living in? Local 54 leadership is dramatically out of touch with most of its members, who agree with us that it’s time to protect our lives by ending indoor smoking. No other worker is as directly affected as us, the table games dealers.”

Lamont White, co-founder of CEASE and table games dealer at Borgata, added: “Governor Murphy should not defend a law that jeopardizes the lives of thousands of New Jersey workers. He’s shamefully giving credence to the scare tactics of opponents, putting perceived profit over our lives.

The fact that our elected officials are willing to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at protecting us from the dangers of smoking indoors speaks volumes about where their priorities lie – and it’s certainly not with the hardworking individuals who keep these casinos running. It’s time Governor Murphy stood up against casinos’ deceitful agenda and started prioritizing our health and safety.”

Laws that require smoke-free restaurants and bars are gaining momentum

There has been a lot of talk about the laws that require smoke-free restaurants and bars across the United States lately.

While Atlantic City has been the main smoking haven for casino players and has been exempt from the protection of the Smoke-free Air Act, similar campaigns exist in states like:

  • Rhode Island
  • Pennsylvania
  • Kansas
  • Virginia

In all these states, industry officials opposing a smoking ban claim that a total prohibition would put thousands of jobs at risk.

While casino workers are concerned about their health, legislators who are against the total ban promise to work on proposals that include enclosed smoking rooms with better ventilation systems.

Although the CEASE and legislators have put in a lot of effort, the US smoking laws have not changed since 2021 when the organization began.

Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
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Written by
Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for PlayCanada.com. Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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