Atlantic City casino smoking ban bill gains four sponsors, now backed by a third of NJ senators

Atlantic City casino smoking ban bill gains four sponsors, now backed by a third of NJ senators
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A bill seeking to ban smoking within Atlantic City casinos continues to gain sponsors. Half of the members of the Assembly Health Committee are now co-sponsors of proposal A2151/S264 after four more sponsors signed on recently.

The legislation seeks to eliminate a loophole in New Jersey’s current smoking law specifically exempting casinos and simulcasting facilities, unlike every other business in the state. It has now been sent to health committees in both the Assembly and Senate, where it awaits hearings.

Casino workers in New Jersey have long pushed for a permanent ban. While smoking within venues was banned as a Covid-19 transmission-prevention measure in 2020, the prohibition expired in April 2021: employees have since tried to get it reinstated. A bill failed to pass during the last legislative session, but supporters believe things could now change.

This is, in no small part, due to the increasing number of co-sponsors and vocal supporters of the bill. The four new backers in the Assembly are members Nancy Munoz, R-Morris, Somerset, Union, who is deputy Republican leader; Ellen Park, D-Bergen; Victoria Flynn, R-Monmouth; and Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, as reported by The Press of Atlantic City.

“With every new legislator who joins our fight, we get one step closer to ending the smoking in casinos that forces us to choose between our health and a paycheck,” said Nicole Vitola, co-leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE), according to the cited source. 

The bill now has 22 co-sponsors in the 80-member Assembly, and 13 in the 40-member Senate. This implies about one-third of all state senators are now either primary or co-sponsors of the smoking ban legislation. Senators who are sponsoring include nine Democrats and four Republicans. 

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that health comes first. Without healthy workers, you can’t have a thriving industry,” said Assembly co-sponsor Ellen Park, D-Bergen. However, not all stakeholders agree the ban would be in the best interest of the casino industry - especially casino operators.

According to a report from research and professional services firm Spectrum Gaming Group, commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), the introduction of a permanent smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos could cost up to 2,500 jobs and cause a decline in gaming and tax revenue for the state of New Jersey.

“Adding a smoking ban could cause a devastating effect to the community and state,” CANJ president Joe Lupo stated last month. “We understand this is a difficult issue, but it is important that we create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of our guests, which include smokers and non-smokers.”

The sentiment has been echoed by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, which earlier this month issued a statement opposing proposals for a permanent smoking ban. Michael Chait, president of the business group, said in an open letter that a ban “would have a negative impact on the casino industry.”

“As the numbers demonstrate, this is not the time to enact policy changes that could inflict yet another blow to an already struggling industry and the employees, families and businesses that it supports,” Chait warned, while highlighting Atlantic City remains “the economic engine of not only South Jersey, but the entire state.”