Bill could move quickly
A group of six New Jersey state senators have reintroduced a bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos. Sponsored by Democrats Sen. Shirley Turner and Sen. Joseph Vitale and co-sponsored by Democrats Sen. Patrick Diegnan, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Sen. Vin Gopal, and Republican Sen. Vincent Polistina, S264 has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
I think now’s the time that we prioritize the workers’ health over there.”
Sen. Polistina believes the bill could come up for a vote within just a couple months, telling The Press of Atlantic City: “I think now’s the time that we prioritize the workers’ health over there.”
The New Jersey Smoke-Free Act went into effect in April 2006 after passing through both chambers of the legislature easily. The law bans indoor smoking in all “enclosed indoor places of public access and workplaces.” There is a carveout, however, for casinos, which can allow smoking on 25% of the casino floor.
Governor Phil Murphy has indicated that he would likely sign the bill should it reach his desk. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the state Assembly soon.
Smoking was temporarily halted during pandemic
Atlantic City’s casinos closed in March 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States; New Jersey was one of the hardest-hit states in the beginning, primarily because of its population density. When they reopened in early July of that year, smoking was temporarily banned as part of a multitude of virus health and safety protocols.
It was expected that the indoor smoking ban would be lifted in early September when indoor dining resumed, but the governor extended the ban, saying: “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.”
At the time, Sen. Vitale said: “….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.”
The casino smoking prohibition finally ended in early July 2021.
Casino workers want smoke-free environment
A bill to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos was actually introduced in February 2020, the month before the COVID-19 shutdowns. To the dismay of many casino workers, though, it never even got as much as a hearing. In December 2021, about two dozen casino workers protested outside the state capitol in Trenton, urging their elected officials to take action. Angering them more was the fact that lawmakers were discussing a bill to give casinos tax breaks.
Please, don’t leave us behind in the smoke.”
“Why doesn’t the state of New Jersey care about us?’ asked Borgata dealer Lamont White when speaking with the Associated Press. “Why is the (Legislature) focused on tax cuts for the casinos rather than the health of their workers? Please, don’t leave us behind in the smoke.”
Nicole Vitola, also a dealer at Borgata, said that if there was a silver lining to the pandemic, it was that she got a break from the smoke. When the smoking ban was set to end last summer, Vitola spoke at a rally, pointing out that smoking was prohibited on beaches and public parks, but not in casinos.
“How is it that you’re not allowed to smoke on our beaches or our boardwalk, but you’re allowed to smoke at my table where I can’t walk away?” she asked. “All I want is the same right that every other worker in New Jersey receives.”
Casino industry groups generally oppose a smoking ban. Last year, the Casino Association of New Jersey argued that it would hurt casinos financially. It would put Atlantic City casinos at a “competitive disadvantage,” according to the group, as smokers go elsewhere. This, the Association claims, would lead to fewer jobs and tax revenue for the state.