Hundreds of Atlantic City Casino Workers Protest: Is the Tipping Point for a Smoking Ban Near?

  • Workers gathered on the 16th anniversary of New Jersey’s smoking ban in a confident mood
  • A worker asked why casino staff don’t get the same health protection other industries provide
  • Workers “vehemently dispute” a smoking ban report that predicts loss of revenue, job cuts
  • Union sent a letter to the NJ Senate President, urging lawmakers to avoid passing a smoking ban
  • Bill is yet to be heard in state legislature, but has 43 co-sponsors in the Assembly and Senate
ashtray, cigarette, and lighter on felt with cards
New Jersey banned smoking in most indoor public spaces 16 years ago and now workers are confident in a bill for smoke-free casinos. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Workers urge lawmakers to pass bill

Support for banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos appears to be nearing a tipping point after hundreds of staff working in the affected gaming properties gathered to urge state lawmakers to pass a bill.

around 250 casino workers banded together in an Atlantic City park

Around 250 casino workers banded together in an Atlantic City park by the ocean on Tuesday, the 16th anniversary of the New Jersey law that banned smoking in most indoor public spaces, casinos excepted. Wayne Parry, a New Jersey-facing casino and sports betting reporter for AP, shared news via Twitter of the workers’ renewed belief in bringing the ban:

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has already gone on record to say he’ll sign the ban if it’s passed. After the workers’ action Tuesday — plus “an unusually high number of legislators [who] have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill,” reported Parry — smoke-free casinos are likely in New Jersey’s cards.

The AP cited one Atlantic City casino worker, Borgata dealer Nicole Vitola, as questioning why casino employees don’t get the same health protection other industries provide. Vitola referenced 16 years of cancer diagnoses and watching co-workers die. She then asked: “We keep hearing, ‘Now is not the time.’ When is it going to be the right time to care about us?”

Polarizing arguments

The 16-year anniversary of New Jersey’s ban on indoor public area smoking brings out a strong emotional response from casino workers, who say they’ve had enough.

“We are not numbers; we are people,” AP cited another Borgata dealer, Lamont White, as saying. “Sixteen years ago the state of New Jersey left us behind in the smoke,” White added.

The casino industry in Atlantic City and the state’s main casino labor union are against the smoking ban. Adding fuel to their fire in February was a report from an independent gambling research firm, which claimed that a smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos could see as many as 2,500 jobs lost, plus a drop in casino revenue of almost 11%.

Casino workers, meanwhile, “vehemently dispute the findings of that report,” the AP reported on Wednesday. They argue the report doesn’t account for a probable improvement in business conditions in the years following the enactment of a smoking ban, as gamblers acclimate to smoke-free casinos.

President of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers’ union Bob McDevitt isn’t letting the casino workers steal a march on him. He sent a letter to New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari on Monday, urging lawmakers to avoid passing a smoking ban.

banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union”

“While we want to ensure that our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union and throughout the state, and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs,” he wrote.

Where there’s smoke…

McDevitt’s plea to lawmakers reveals the pro-smoking brigade is feeling the fire of their opposition, which is no surprise. While the bill has not yet been heard in the state Legislature, it has 28 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 15 in the Senate. Assemblywoman Claire Swift said that:

the whole world has figured out how to eat outside and smoke outside”

Swift added that the “nine casinos can figure it out.” Borgata dealer Pete Naccarelli was also in a confident mood, saying: “We know this bill would pass today with flying colors if it got put to the floor.”

“Soon I will be thankful because I will be working in a smoke-free environment like everyone else in the state of New Jersey,” Naccarelli predicted.