East Coast Gaming Conference officials have issued a revised schedule for the Sept. 21-23 industry event at the Hard Rock in Atlantic City. Gone from the list of panels was one called “Gaming Revenues Going Up In Smoke?” that was to debate the issue of banning smoking from all nine Atlantic City casinos.
Panelists were to include Parx Casino executive Eric Hausler; Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights; and Mark Giannantonio, the Resorts AC CEO who in August was named chief of the Casino Association of New Jersey. Parx, located near Philadelphia, banned smoking last year and has maintained its ban.
Hallett claimed on Tuesday that Giannantonio “abruptly backed out” of appearing on the panel. An East Coast Gaming Congress organizer declined a request by NJ Online Gambling for comment.
Giannantonio told The Associated Press: “The Casino Association of New Jersey has been very transparent in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City. We believe that more time is needed to devise and implement a solution that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs and benefits to seniors.”
No one to defend casino smoking?
“It’s remarkably telling that Atlantic City casinos couldn’t find one person to publicly defend their position in favor of indoor smoking,” Hallett said in a statement. “Instead of engaging in a serious, fact-based discussion about indoor smoking, casino executives are avoiding the issue. They know that they cannot win on the facts — even their economic arguments have been thoroughly rebutted, so they are avoiding a public discussion.
“It’s also illogical that conference organizers chose to cancel the panel because they couldn’t find someone to defend indoor smoking,” Hallett added. “They would never have canceled a forum on responsible gaming because they couldn’t find an opposing voice, or on sports betting because they couldn’t find panelists who oppose expansion.
“The hypocrisy of some in the industry on this issue has never been clearer. A few months ago, Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen said, ‘Success means being better listeners to employees.’
“Casino workers have literally been marching in the streets to end indoor smoking and protect their health at their workplace, yet casino executives are deaf to workers’ pleas. And now they’re trying to stifle any discussion of the issue.
“If the Casino Association of New Jersey thinks their backpedaling on this discussion will make the issue go away, they are wrong. We are disappointed that this conversation will be missing from the formal conference program, but rest assured — the presence of casino workers who have been fighting for their health will be felt next week.”
At the Global Gaming Expo (known as G2E) in Las Vegas last October, several Atlantic City casino workers held a press conference expressing their concerns about health issues stemming from inhaling second-hand smoke.
Smoking ban has momentum
After a two-month break, the New Jersey legislature returns to work later this week. But the agenda for the Assembly Health Committee does not list bill A2151 — which would add casinos to the smoking-ban list that includes virtually every other type of indoor business in the state — among the five bills up for consideration.
That’s even though the legislation is co-sponsored by more than half of the legislature, including the entire Atlantic City-area delegation, a majority of the Assembly and Senate health committees, and a majority of South Jersey Assembly Democrats.
The two-year upheaval caused by COVID-19 has made it difficult to compare revenue figures of casinos that have banned smoking with those that have not. But in June, an independent report by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming questioned the traditional casino opposition to a smoking ban.
“Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue,” the report read. “In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”
This year’s Global Gaming Expo, scheduled for Oct. 10-13, does not yet list the topic of banning smoking in casinos among more than 60 panels during the comprehensive event that attracts thousands of U.S. gaming industry insiders as well as a sizable contingent of executives from around the world.