Workers await as N.J. lawmakers debate casino smoking ban

The bill would close a loophole in the state's 2006 indoor smoking law written specifically to exempt casinos from bans on smoking indoors.

Smoking in a casino

A gambler smokes while playing a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City N.J. on Aug. 8, 2022. On Monday Feb. 13, 2023, lawmakers will hold their first hearing on a bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City's nine casinos. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

It’s often said that people who really want something are breathlessly anticipating it. But for a large group of Atlantic City casino workers who have been waiting 17 years for state lawmakers to consider ending smoking in casinos, that’s almost literally true.

Dealers, cocktail servers, and other casino workers — some of them with breathing ailments and other health problems they suspect are related to secondhand smoke from casino patrons — are eagerly awaiting Monday’s hearing before a New Jersey Senate committee on legislation that would prohibit smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos.

The bill would close a loophole in the state’s 2006 indoor smoking law written specifically to exempt casinos from bans on smoking indoors. Currently, smoking is permitted on 25% of a casino floor in Atlantic City.

Whether to ban smoking is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City casinos, but in other states where workers have expressed concern about secondhand smoke. They are waging similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group for Atlantic City’s casinos, has long opposed a smoking ban, predicting it would cost the industry jobs and revenue. But smoking opponents dispute those assertions, citing research from Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming that showed non-smoking casinos in several markets are now outperforming those where smoking is permitted.

Mark Giannantonio, president of Resorts Casino and head of the trade group, did not respond to a request for comment before Monday’s hearing.

The casinos also note they have spent millions on ventilation and other air purification systems. Workers and health industry groups contend there’s no level of secondhand smoke considered safe for humans.

Support for a smoking ban is widespread among New Jersey lawmakers: Identical smoking ban bills are sponsored or co-sponsored by 51 Assembly members and 23 state Senators, representing a bipartisan majority in both chambers.

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The bills have repeatedly been introduced in the Legislature, only to sit untouched for several years not only without a vote, but without so much as a discussion.

That discussion is set to happen Monday afternoon, although a vote will not be taken that day.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has promised to sign the bill if it’s passed by the Legislature.

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