A measure banning smoking across Atlantic City’s casinos moved forward on a 4th try in the New Jersey Legislature on Jan. 29.
The New Jersey Senate health committee approved a long-delayed bill to enforce a smoking ban in Atlantic City’s nine casinos. Sen. Joe Vitale has sponsored a bill to ban smoking in casinos in every legislative session for 18 years. This is the first time the committee has advanced it since 2007.
The bill failed to secure the necessary support in November with a vote getting postponed.
The latest change also comes after years of New Jersey casino employees complaining about working in unhealthy conditions while exposed to breathing in smoke at work.
Smoking is only allowed on 25% of the casino floor in Atlantic City. But casino workers say the smoke puffs into most parts of the gambling floor, regardless of their label. Atlantic City casinos were exempt from New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006 which banned smoking in almost any other workplace.
Atlantic City casino smoking ban passes first obstacle but more to come
The move to ban smoking entirely is only the first step among many necessary approvals to come. It comes as the consequence of the movement by many casino workers who fought hard to implement a ban that has now entered its fourth year.
Lamont White, Cynthia Hallett, and Nicola Vitola are the leaders of an initiative to ban smoking in casinos. According to the Associated Press article, Nicola Vitola, a Borgata dealer and a leader of the movement to ban casino smoking, said: “We feel like we cracked the egg.”
She said that, while she was pregnant, she had to work tables and customers in smoking sections: “Dealers are mere inches from players blowing smoke in our faces.”
Casino workers said they are not discouraged by the lengthy process the bill must undergo before its eventual passage.
Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said, according to a New Jersey Monitor news story: “It’ll be an uphill battle because the tobacco and casino industry do not want to lose.”
Business groups and unions fear possible job and money reductions
On multiple occasions, business groups and a casino workers union warned that a smoking ban could lead to an economic disaster. It could cost the southern New Jersey casino region jobs and money.
Christina Renna, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, warned that banning smoking could lead to many layoffs. She is also concerned that people will go to Pennsylvania casinos that allow smoking.
Donna DeCaprio, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here union, emphasized that there were 50,000 casino jobs in Atlantic City. With the new bill banning smoking altogether, she fears 2,500-3,000 jobs could be lost.
On the contrary, Hallett said if smoking were prohibited, more people would visit Atlantic City casinos, according to recent polling.
What are the next steps?
The New Jersey casino industry officials continue to oppose a total smoking ban. They claim they are working on proposals that include better ventilation systems.
Sen. Vince Polistina prefers a compromise over the bill proposal for an absolute ban on smoking on the casino floor. He said the bill he plans to draft would include enclosed smoking rooms where no employees would be assigned to work unless they want to.
The advanced bill to ban smoking will now go to the full state Senate for a vote. An Assembly committee must approve an identical bill to be voted upon by the full chamber. Then, it can go to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, who previously said he would sign it into law.