New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy extended the ban on smoking inside casinos on Friday, the same day that restaurants were allowed to resume indoor dining. Murphy announced his decision in his daily coronavirus briefing. Just three days earlier, he issued an executive order restoring indoor dining and beverage service on casino floors, plus indoor smoking in venues where it was previously permitted.
“We have looked closely at the science and agree with the experts who have concluded that allowing smoking is too big a risk to take,” Murphy said, referring to the risk of COVID-19 spread.
Face masks are required in casinos, but people are permitted to remove them temporarily while eating, drinking, or smoking. Now one of those excuses for not wearing a face covering is gone. Patrons must still remain seated while eating or drinking.
Pressure was on the governor
The governor caught heat before his surprise announcement for not prolonging the smoking ban. State Senator Joseph Vitale issued a statement on Thursday, saying that COVID-19 spreads when we breathe and “there is absolutely no reason to believe smoking would not also spread the coronavirus because there is simply no way to smoke and wear a face covering.”
He added that Governor Murphy “has played on the safe side with most reopenings and regulations and that is why allowing smoking indoors is so baffling.”
how is letting indoor smoking safe?”
One Atlantic City casino dealer told The Press of Atlantic City that they originally felt safe returning to work because of all the health protocols in place, but “Now, how is letting indoor smoking safe? Not only to us, but our families and our nonsmoking guests. … I feel like no one cares about us.”
Of course, with Murphy’s order to keep smoking out of casinos, critics are breathing sighs of relief. New Jersey Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato issued a joint statement, saying: “Prohibiting smoking will make it easier for casinos to filter clean air, which experts agree is key to slowing the virus’s spread in indoor spaces.”
Restaurants on notice
As Atlantic City casinos begin welcoming diners back into their restaurants, Governor Murphy will have zero patience for rules violations. During Friday’s press conference, he said that he wants to be able to keep “expanding restaurant capabilities,” but he will not be able to if he sees “a slew of restaurant owners and managers flagrantly violating the rules that are in place.”
health protocols we have put in place are not kind suggestions”
He added that “the public health protocols we have put in place are not kind suggestions.”
“We will not tolerate any violations and we will not be afraid to come down hard and make an example of those who think the rules don’t apply to them,” Governor Murphy continued.
Atlantic City casinos closed in mid-March along with most casinos in the United States, as the country began to realize how serious the COVID-19 pandemic was about to get. New Jersey was one of the hardest-hit states early on, but has also been one of the best in mitigating the spread of the virus. When casinos were finally permitted to reopen just before Independence Day, the Borgata was the lone holdout. Management decided that without indoor dining, it could not offer a proper experience for its customers, so made additional preparations and reopened three weeks later.