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Atlantic City Smoke Debate Rages, Vote Delayed

Atlantic City New Jersey Casinos General View
A general view of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP

Casino employees seeking smoke-free work environments, along with anti-smoking groups, have seen another delay in their latest effort to put a total smoking ban in effect in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Vote Delayed

The battle lines have been drawn, and neither side is backing down. Many casino workers believe that casinos, like all other public buildings in the city, should be smoke-free. They argue their health is being compromised by second-hand smoke and want all the protections that are allotted to employees at all other local businesses.

Casino owners, on the other hand, contend the gaming floors are already 75% smoke-free areas and that eliminating the last bastion of space for those who like to smoke while they gamble will force those patrons to go to neighboring states where they are afforded that luxury.

A vote by New Jersey legislators on eliminating smoking from all Atlantic City casinos was supposed to be held last week, but the bill did not receive the necessary support. Therefore, the vote has been postponed and the debate continues.

But a delay in the proceedings doesn’t mean the issue has been put to bed. The casino workers have vowed to continue to press the issue while the casino owners maintain they have already given enough and the health of the industry in Atlantic City is at stake if the smoking ban goes into effect.

The anti-smoking legislation has wide bipartisan support with the governor, as well as 26 senators and 57 Assembly members counting themselves as advocates of the bill.

Testimony Continues

Nicole Vitola, a table game dealer at the Bogata, said she has been working under unhealthy conditions for well over a decade:

“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, the former governor of New Jersey from 2004-2006, said he had to play politics and allow the partial smoking exemption for the Boardwalk 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 a necessary evil that he regrets. “It was a self-interest. It was wrong.”

However, 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.”

Study Reveals Potential Impacts

There was also a 49-page study conducted by Spectrum Gaming titled “Potential Impacts of an Atlantic City Casino Smoking Ban on Gross Gaming Revenue,” in which the results concluded that 21% of Atlantic City casino players are smokers.

Highlights of the study include the following:

  • A smoking ban would cause a decline in the casinos’ non-gaming revenue of 3.0% in the low case and 6.5% in the high case.
  • Using 2019 (pre-COVID-19) data as a basis, Spectrum estimates an Atlantic City casino smoking ban would lead to declines in NJ gaming tax revenue of $10.7 million to $25.7 million.
  • A decrease in tax revenue due to a lowering of GGR at casinos would lower the contributions to the NJ Casino Revenue Fund (potentially $1.7 to $4.0 million), as well as funding of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority of as much as $17.2 million and $44 million.
  • There might be a net loss of between 1,021 and 2,512 casino jobs if the state bans smoking completely on the gaming floor.

However, the most alarming statistic emanating from the study reveals that “a smoking ban would result in a GGR (gross gaming revenue) decline of between 5.0% and 11.9% among patrons who smoke.”

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