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NJ Senate President Readies Casino Smoking Ban Legislation For Vote

Written By Katarina Vojvodic | Updated:
New Jersey State Senate President-Elect Nick Scutari

The New Jersey Senate will vote on a bill to ban smoking inside Atlantic Casinos, according to multiple media resources.

As POLITICO reported, Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union), seems to be ready to bring NJ S264 up for a full floor vote as early as after November’s General Election. The story reports that the NJ Senate president has said he would sign the bill – if it got to his desk – to bring smoke-free air to AC casinos during the lame-duck session.

Gov. Phil Murphy has also said he would sign the bill into law if the State Legislature passed it. Sponsored by two and co-sponsored by 24 state senators (out of 40), the bill has a great chance of passing the Upper Chamber. But for the legislation to be sent to the governor’s desk, the General Assembly must also vote and pass a companion bill.

In the meantime, there have been talks about banning indoor smoking in the Keystone State. Namely, Rep. Dan Frankel submitted a bill, HB 1657, to the Pennsylvania Assembly to end smoking inside PA casinos.

NJ Senate President to support a full Senate vote before end of year

Three NJ senators said they talked to Scutari, who privately told lawmakers that a bill banning indoor casino smoking is expected to be posted for a full Senate vote during the lame-duck session.

If it happens, the move will be a huge step for the legislation (NJ S264), first introduced in 2006. It unanimously passed the state Senate one year later but hasn’t received a full floor vote in either legislative chamber since.

Casino workers and anti-smoking supporters spent years fighting for the legislation. The Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006 exempted Atlantic City casinos, allowing them to tolerate smoking on up to 25% of their gaming floors.

One of the key backers of the new bill, NJ Senator Joe Vitale, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, said in a POLITICO interview: “The Senate President expressed to me he would post and support a full Senate vote before the end of the year.”

In response to news and the report by POLITICOCynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, issued a statement:

“We’re thrilled that New Jersey lawmakers will hold a much-anticipated vote to end indoor smoking in casinos and protect the lives of thousands of Atlantic City casino workers. We’re especially encouraged that the bill appears likely to receive a vote as currently drafted, without amendments that would weaken it and continue to put workers’ health in jeopardy…

By closing the casino smoking loophole, Atlantic City casinos will join the growing number of casinos and states that are going 100% smoke-free indoors and attracting a new generation of guests who prefer a smoke-free experience. Most importantly, this legislation is going to improve workplace conditions for workers and even save lives.”

NJ bills have more than 80 sponsors, a vast majority of the legislature

Nearly 70% of the New Jersey legislature has co-sponsored legislation (S264 and A2151) to close the casino smoking loophole. In total, the bills have 83 co-sponsors, 26 in the Senate and 57 in the Assembly.

The legislation also has support from these organizations:

  • National Council on Problem Gambling
  • UFCW Local 152
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Lung Association
  • American Heart Association
  • Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The United Auto Workers union, which represents around 1,200 casino dealers in Atlantic City, also supports the initiative. Members of the organization gathered in February to testify before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee.

In March, the Assembly Health Committee and the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, members of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) testified before lawmakers to share their experience working in smoke.

Furthermore, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has repeatedly said he will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk, saying:

“At the end of the day, we will still get good business. Atlantic City is an American gem. We’ve got the ocean and the other competitors don’t. And this is the right thing for our respective health.”

There are many groups and organizations, however, that oppose the smoking ban in S264. Some include the Casino Association of New Jersey, the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey and the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce.

Casino operators fear losing up to 16% of their business if they ban their customers from smoking indoors. The Casino Association of New Jersey estimates that the smoking ban could cause the area to lose 20%-25% of in-person casino revenue annually.

Push to ban indoor smoking in Pennsylvania casinos

Whether to ban smoking in casinos, bars, and restaurants is one of the most debated discussions not only in New Jersey but in other states where workers voiced their fears about second-hand smoke.

There has been a lot of discussion lately on banning indoor smoking in several other states. Pennsylvania is only one of them.

Last month, Rep. Dan Frankel submitted HB 1657 to the Pennsylvania Assembly, saying he would fully ban indoor smoking and protect employees from second-hand smoke. The bill aims to end smoking inside the state’s 18 inland casinos. Although indoor smoking in the state is largely forbidden, casinos and bars are currently exempt.

The Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights also supports the initiative to have smoke-free PA casinos.

The choice of whether to ban indoor smoking is again up to lawmakers. Advocates are urging them to finish what they started in 2008 when Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act became law.

Should a bill to ban smoking inside Atlantic City casinos make its way to the NJ governor’s desk and become a law, it could only influence other states to increase the efforts to ban smoking within their jurisdictions.

Photo by Matt Rourke / AP Photo
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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 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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