Will Proposed Ban On Cigarettes Inside Atlantic City Casinos Go Up In Smoke?

Outgoing Senate president has not prioritized bill to remove smoking from gaming floors
smoking cigar at slots
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Countless bills will come up for a vote in Trenton during the legislature’s lame duck session, following the Election Day vote for governor and for all 120 state Senate and Assembly seats.

But last week, Senate President Stephen Sweeney — bounced from office in a stunning upset by a low-budget Republican challenger — said that there has been no discussion about whether to put a bill to ban smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos on the front burner.

“We haven’t even started to talk about it, really, in any deep dialogue,” Sweeney said before an appearance at a ground-breaking ceremony for an Atlantic City supermarket Thursday. “The governor, myself and the [Assembly] speaker have to get together and decide which bills we’re going to move forward.

“We’re not committing to …” Sweeney added, his voice trailing off before he added, “I don’t know what the lame duck’s going to look like. The legislature and the governor all have to be in agreement. So, we’ll see.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, who won re-election in a closer-than-expected race, has said he will sign the casino smoking ban measure if lawmakers approve it. But Sweeney has expressed reservations about the idea.

Rally held by smoking opponents

Also on Thursday, a news conference took place to urge passage of the bill during the current session of the Legislature, which ends Jan. 11 before the newly elected members are sworn in to office.

That was part of a national “Great American Smokeout” day, when people across the country were urged to try to stop smoking.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network also released a poll it commissioned that showed New Jersey residents favor banning smoking in the casinos by a margin of greater than 2-to-1.

“We’re glad that New Jersey voters agree that we should not have to choose between our health and a paycheck,” said Robin Vitulle, a dealer supervisor in Atlantic City for more than 36 years.

“From our experiences, our customers have no problem stepping outside to smoke because they must do so everywhere else. Then they come back inside and continue to gamble. We cannot wait any longer for clear air in our workplace, and we urge the legislature to finally act to close the casino loophole.”

New Jersey’s law that bans smoking in most indoor places specifically exempts the nine Atlantic City casinos.

When the COVID-19 pandemic peaked last year, Murphy banned smoking when the casinos reopened on July 4 weekend after 3 1/2 months of casino shutdowns.

Since the ban expired in April 2021, smoking opponents have tried to make the ban permanent.

Sweeney’s comments criticized

Pete Naccarelli, co-leader of Casinos Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE), issued a statement responding to the Senate president: “Senator Sweeney’s comments yesterday could not be more out of touch with the unacceptable reality we face at work every day. We have been calling on him for months to take action to close the casino loophole, so this is not new to him.

“Why is he moving quickly to give casinos a tax break but leaving us behind? We need him to take action. We will not forget who fought for us and who did nothing. Senator Sweeney has the power to stop forcing us to choose between our health and a paycheck — and he should use it.”

State Sen. Shirley Turner agreed.

“Right now, our policy that allows smoking in casinos, but bans smoking outside the casino doors on Atlantic City boardwalks and beaches, is not only inconsistent, it is inconsiderate and unfair to casino workers.

“In this day and age, secondhand smoke should not be an occupational hazard.”

Casino patrons can smoke on no more than 25% of the casino floor. The casinos post signs that designate areas where smoking is allowed, and they reportedly have invested heavily in air filtration systems.

The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group that represents the Atlantic City casinos, insists that a permanent ban would do great harm to the industry.

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