New Jersey Lawmakers Postpone Vote On Atlantic City Smoking Ban

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on December 1, 2023
Blackjack Dealer Rachel Chen Places Cards Before a smoking Binh Nguyen during a blackjack game at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City

New Jersey lawmakers postponed a long-awaited vote on a bill that would completely ban anyone from smoking in Atlantic City casinos. The bill failed to secure the necessary support.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee held a previously announced meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30. The committee heard testimony from people on both sides of the matter.

Workers claim it is unhealthy and unfair that they must breathe in smoke while at work. Meanwhile, casinos say there could be a lot of damage caused to the industry if smoking gets banned.

Despite having bipartisan support, the bill will continue to strive to make it to a vote. New Jersey’s law banning smoking in public businesses exempts Atlantic City’s casinos.

Emotional statements from some New Jersey casino workers

According to a post by NJ PBS New Jersey Public Media Reports, Patrick Ashton, international representative, Region 9 New Jersey, United Auto Workers said:

“I was at a funeral for a 54-year-old dealer on Tuesday. A non-smoker died of lung and thyroid cancer. So, the sad stories are over. The facts are in. I mean, there is no debate to be had. There is no compromise to be had.”

Likewise, Nicole Vitola, table game dealer at Bogata, emphasized that it has been 17 years since their lives were exempt from the protection of the Smoke-free Air Act. She said:

“What we face on a daily basis is degrading and cruel. This is 17 years of pregnant mothers like myself who had to work in this smoke, who had to make the impossible choice of putting their unborn children in harm’s way just to earn a paycheck and keep their health insurance.”

Sen. Richard Codey, a Democrat who previously served as governor, said he regrets the exemption for casinos. “At some point in that process, I was told that if I did not cut out an exemption for the casinos, the bill would never pass the assembly. And I realized that precaution was right.”

He said it was the price lawmakers had to pay to pass the bill – “It was a self-interest. It was wrong.”

Fewer visitors to Atlantic City with smoking ban, claim casino owners

The New Jersey casino industry opposes a smoking ban as they fear they would lose customers and revenue. Especially because smoking indoors remains allowed in casinos in neighboring states.

Joseph Dougherty, Casino Association of New Jersey attorney said: “Fewer people will come to Atlantic City if there is a complete ban. Fewer people will come to Atlantic City.

Fewer people will eat there, drink there, buy things, and stay there. There will be a reduction in jobs, and there will be a reduction in development.”

Debate on the New Jersey casino smoking ban will continue

Sen. Joseph Vitale, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said the measure was one vote short of the number required to move it forward Thursday. He also said he favors a vote on the bill as originally written, which would ban indoor smoking that’s currently allowed across 25% of the casino floor.

Sen. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester), on the other hand, suggests an 18-month phase-in, which would allow casinos to set up enclosed smoking rooms and additional air treatment and ventilation.

The casino smoking ban supported by many New Jersey lawmakers and a bipartisan majority in both chambers is insufficient. The bill also has Gov. Phil Murphy’s reassurance that he will sign it if it passes.

But, as Vitale concluded, without a majority, it would be another month until this bill gets a vote. It would only extend the saga between casinos and their workers.

Photo by Brian Branch-Price / 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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