Efforts to ban smoking inside Atlantic City casinos are taking longer than expected, even though half of the New Jersey Generally Assembly is on board.
Over half of the state Senate and Assembly members have signed on as co-sponsors on S264, a bill to help protect casino employees and patrons from secondhand smoke. Gov. Phil Murphy has even acknowledged the harms suggesting he would sign the bill into law.
Unfortunately, the proposal has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing or a vote.
What is holding up the Atlantic City casinos smoking ban bill?
According to NJ Advance Media, although the bill will ultimately pass, it may not come up for a vote until after the 2023 elections.
Postponing a bill is typical in the face of elections across the US. Lawmakers are fearful that voting on such extreme measures could cost them votes. Thus, most lawmakers wait to take up such bills until after taking office. Other times, lawmakers attempt to stall or rush bills. This is to prevent their legislative counterparts from taking credit for impactful bills that may or may not have been their idea.
The delay has angered a group of casino workers that pushed for the bill over a year ago. The group fears lawmakers are putting politics ahead of public health.
However, Democratic Senate President Nicholas Scutari said the bill significantly impacts southern New Jersey and its casinos.
“The fact I’m thinking it through is a lot bigger deal than where it was before — I’m not just gonna jump through hoops. I’m not a fan of smoking. I’ve never smoked. But I’m the Senate President now. It’s a larger consideration. We’ve had a lot of meetings on this issue.”
Smoking ban impact studies
In 2006, New Jersey banned smoking inside restaurants and most public spaces. However, New Jersey casinos were exempt and can still offer indoor smoking on up to 25% of their gaming floors.
In March, a report from Spectrum Gaming Group showed that some people avoid casinos altogether because of indoor smoking. The report also suggested these potential customers would be more likely to visit and/or spend more time there if the properties were smoke-free.
Effects of temporary smoking ban
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when capacity was limited inside NJ casinos, patrons in Atlantic City couldn’t smoke inside. This temporary ban lasted from July 2020 to July 2021.
In the first quarter of 2021, casinos in Atlantic City combined to take 11% more revenue than they did in the first quarter of 2019.
According to Bill Miller, CEO of the America Gaming Association, casino operators did not see “detrimental effects” from temporary smoking bans.
Lamont White, a casino dealer and leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE), said it pains him to see casino workers caught in the political web.
“While we are pleased that Senate President Scutari has committed to eventually advancing legislation to protect our lives, we cannot wait another year. It is not fair to the workers and the patrons of casinos to have secondhand smoke. Their health trumps any other issue in my mind.”