Opinion: Protect the Health of Casino Workers and Ban Smoking Already

  • A current New Jersey bill would close a loophole that still allows smoking in casinos
  • Casino dealers believe some serious health problems stem from being around smoke
  • Employees like their jobs, but don’t want to keep jeopardizing their health
  • Industry groups and casinos believe that banning smoking will decrease revenue
  • Studies have found that non-smoking casinos have done well since the pandemic
Man extinguishing a cigarette in an ashtray
It’s time for people to be put before profits. Smoking should be banned in casinos. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Profits over people

There is currently a bill in the New Jersey legislature that would close a loophole in the law that allows smoking on 25% of the casino floor. Reports are that a majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support it, yet it is not even close to a vote yet.

It is time for New Jersey state legislators to step up and do something for the people. This isn’t a situation where a company wants its employees to get a shorter lunch break or not be paid for setup they do before the work day technically starts. Those are bad enough, but this is literally a “profits over people” scenario.

 all my oncologists have told me this is a life-and-death choice”

“I don’t even know how long I’m going to live,” Holly Diebler, a craps dealer at Tropicana in the midst of chemotherapy treatments for throat cancer, said in front of a New Jersey state Assembly committee on Thursday. “I love my job; I don’t want to leave it. But all my oncologists have told me this is a life-and-death choice.”

New Jersey isn’t the only state in which smoking in casinos is a growing concern – there have been movements in Virginia, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, as well – but Atlantic City is the hotbed for the debate.

Casino workers are begging for help

Tammy Brady, who has been a dealer in Atlantic City for nearly four decades, has stage 2 breast cancer. Also testifying in the Assembly, she admitted that nobody knows exactly why she got cancer, but: “I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened if the casinos hadn’t forced me to work in second-hand smoke.”

when a player 12 inches away blows a cloud of smoke at me, I can’t move”

There is nothing these employees can do about the smoke they have to wallow in every day except quit or fight the long fight in the halls of the legislature. Borgata dealer Pete Naccarelli said at a Senate hearing last month: “When a player 12 inches away blows a cloud of smoke at me, I can’t move, and I’m prohibited from waving the smoke away, a gesture that would be considered rude…We don’t think it’s fair that we should have to choose between a paycheck and our health.”

62-year-old craps dealer Janice Green said her employer, Tropicana, told her it would “embarrass the customer” to wave smoke away from her face. “You mean the customer that’s killing me?”

Casinos afraid of turning away gamblers

If the casinos knew for absolute certain that it would be profitable to ban smoking, they would do it. But they are afraid banning the activity would drive customers away, so screw it, light up those cancer sticks. Can’t come up with another way to attract gamblers. Impossible.

Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, believes that banning smoking would reduce industry revenue by 10% and could result in the closure of at least one casino. The Casino Association of New Jersey thinks that revenue losses could be 20-25%.

A person can’t work when they’re dead.

Industry groups and gambling companies are rightfully concerned about the continued climb out of the pit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And I empathize with the worry that banning smoking will turn away customers and thus cost jobs – my wife has been through multiple jobs since the start of the pandemic – but when the alternative is telling your employees to suck up carcinogens every day, then the business has a bigger problem. A person can’t work when they’re dead.

Studies support smoke-free casinos

Despite the casinos’ concerns, there has been evidence that a smoking prohibition doesn’t hurt business at all. In a June 2022 study, C3 Gaming found that “those casinos that implemented smoking prohibitions did not experience any drop in revenues or lost market share to nearby casinos that continued to offer smoking environments,” adding that 157 tribes have had no revenue drops after banning smoking. In fact, maintenance costs have gone down, boosting profitability.

non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts”

C3 also said that states should look at recent trends, not data from a decade or two ago, when other factors may have played a role in decreasing casino revenue. Recent data, the consulting group found, shows that “non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”

Another study by Meczka Market Research/Consulting in 2021 of gamblers in the Pacific Northwest found that when choosing a casino to visit, “smoking is allowed” was the primary reason for only 4% of respondents. On the flip side, “smoking is not allowed” was the primary reason for 26% and the top reason was “location, proximate to one’s home” at 32%.

It would be nice if all casinos would voluntarily ban smoking, but if they won’t, lawmakers must act.

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