Greater Atlantic City Chamber opposes proposed casino smoking ban

The Press Of Atlantic City
Greater Atlantic City Chamber opposes proposed casino smoking ban
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ATLANTIC CITY — The Greater Atlantic City Chamber has come out against legislation that would ban smoking in casinos.

In a statement, chamber President Michael Chait said efforts to impose a permanent ban should be halted, adding it will have a negative impact on the casino industry. 

Chait cited job losses and a decline in revenue, "which in turn would hurt local businesses and vendors that rely on the industry for their economic livelihood."

"We recognize the concerns of casino employees who support a smoking ban, but we also must keep in mind that thousands of employees and their families will be impacted by lost jobs if a ban is passed," Chait said.

The bill, like one that died without a vote in last year’s legislative session, would amend New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act to include casinos.

Casinos are specifically exempted from the current law. Smoking is allowed on no more than 25% of a casino’s floor in Atlantic City.

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In the Assembly, the bill has been referred to the Health Committee, while in the Senate the bill has been referred to the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

On Thursday, five more senators co-sponsored the legislation (S264) that would eliminate the loophole that still allows some smoking on casino floors.

As of Thursday, 13 of the state's 40 senators are either primary or co-sponsors of the legislation, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights said. That list includes Sens. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, and Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

“New Jersey should not allow any worker to be subjected to cancer-causing secondhand smoke while on the job,” said Sen. Andrew Zwicker, D-Hunterdon. “I’m co-sponsoring S264 because it’s past time that we eliminate the casino smoking loophole and finally protect the health of casino workers. This is a common sense bill and an urgent matter for thousands of Atlantic City casino employees.”

Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans For Nonsmokers' Rights, a coalition pushing to get rid of smoking in Atlantic City casinos, called the chamber's statement "more of the same scare tactics that are going over like a lead balloon."

Hallett praised the support from the state's senators.

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“The overwhelming, bipartisan support for protecting casino workers from secondhand smoke continues to grow,” Hallett said. “In the year 2022, we know too much to allow any business to intentionally subject their workers to carcinogens. We applaud these senators for adding their name and helping to advance this critical legislation.”

Chait said a smoking ban would put the city's casinos at a disadvantage against those in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, where smoking is allowed.

“By imposing a smoking ban, we are simply driving visitors, businesses and jobs away from our region to neighboring states," he said.

Spectrum Gaming Group, an independent gambling research firm, said last month in a report that a smoking ban in Atlantic City could cost up to 2,500 casino jobs and nearly 11% of casinos' revenue.

A group of casino workers and smoking opponents criticized the report, saying it prioritizes profits over the health of employees and customers. They also said it fails to examine what would happen in subsequent years as patrons get used to a smoking ban, citing the experience of some tribal casinos where gambling rebounded.

The Casino Association of New Jersey commissioned the Spectrum report, which did not recommend whether smoking should be banned. The association opposed the legislation in January, saying forcing smokers outside could turn away potential customers.

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Still, permanently banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos is gaining renewed support in the state Legislature. Gov. Phil Murphy has said he will sign a smoking ban into law if a bill is passed.

Among other findings in the report, it determined that smokers, who account for 21% of Atlantic City gamblers, are worth more to casinos than non-smokers in that they tend to lose more money and spend more on non-gambling items.

Chait said employment and visitation to the city is at a 20-year low, adding that the success of online gaming has created a misperception about the current state of the Atlantic City casino industry.

The national industry won $53 billion in 2021, the American Gaming Association showed in its year-end report last month. Almost $45 billion was won from in-person gamblers, up 6.6% from 2019, the AGA showed.

"Land-based gaming revenues are down from 2019 and have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. 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 said.

Hallett cited the promotion of online gambling over the past few years as a bigger concern for in-person visitation numbers, not smoking.

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“If their members are concerned about in-person visitation, they should talk to the casino operators about the incessant promotion of online gambling that cannibalizes Atlantic City’s land-based business," Hallett said. "Casinos and their allies have also yet to lay out how they plan to protect their workers from secondhand smoke. Their health deserves more than lip service.”

Chait called Atlantic City the "economic engine of not only South Jersey, but the entire state," adding the industry has produced more jobs, investment and tax revenue than any other industry in Atlantic County in the past 40 years.

"I urge legislators to protect the jobs, tourism and revenue that fuel our local and regional economy and oppose any efforts to enact a smoking ban at Atlantic City casinos," Chait said. "The growth and vitality of our community depend on it.”

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