Atlantic City Casino Workers Continue Smoking Ban Fight

Written By Stephanie Loder on February 14, 2023
Casino Smoking Hearing

Atlantic City casino workers delivered a strong message Monday in Trenton, highlighting their fight for a smokefree workplace. They are calling on lawmakers to close the casino smoking loophole so that workers and guests are no longer forced to breathe secondhand smoke.

Testimony before the Senate Health and Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee came from dealers, cocktail servers and other casino workers. Many suffer from breathing problems and other health related issues they claim are related to secondhand smoke from casino patrons.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has promised to sign the legislation into law when passed.

“As dealers we can never walk away when the smoke gets too thick and our eyes are burning and breathing is difficult. Our job requires us to stand there and take it, no matter how many cigars are lit at once,” said casino worker Lamont White.

Atlantic City casino workers share testimony

Atlantic City casino dealer Tammy Brady is battling cancer and testified she returned to her smoke-filled workplace because she needs an income.

“After working in casinos for nearly 40 years, I was recently diagnosed with stage two breast cancer,” Brady said. “While I’m not sure we will ever know the exact cause of my illness, I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened had I not worked in casinos — or better yet, if casinos didn’t force me to breathe in secondhand smoke all throughout my shifts. For workers like me, this is literally a life-or-death fight.”

Casino dealer Pete Naccarelli testified that he is concerned about working in a smoke filled casino because it is a threat to his longevity.

“I want to be there to grow old with my family so we can experience milestones in our sons’ lives as they get older. But the longer smoking is allowed in the casinos, the lesser the chance that I will be around for them,” Naccarelli said.

The casino workers – members of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) – rallied with Senator Shirley Turner, Senator Joseph Vitale, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and a coalition of public health organizations outside of the State House Annex courtyard ahead of the first-ever committee hearing on legislation to close the casino smoking loophole in the state’s 2006 indoor smoking law.

Casino Association of New Jersey has concerns

The Casino Association of New Jersey is the collective voice for the Atlantic City casino industry. The group claims a smoking would have a “devastating effect” on casinos.

Here’s the CANJ statement statement that was read during Monday’s hearing:

“An immediate smoking ban in New Jersey casinos, while smoking is still permitted in casinos in neighboring states, against the backdrop of an already weakened and worsening economic climate, would endanger thousands of jobs and jeopardize millions of dollars in tax revenue dedicated to seniors and disabled of New Jersey.”

Current Atlantic City casino smoking policy

Atlantic City casinos currently permit smoking on 25% of a casino floor.

“The Smoke-Free Air Act was passed 17 years ago. It has been 17 extra years of our brothers and sisters getting sick, 17 years of cancer diagnosis, 17 years of watching our co-workers and our friends die,” said Nicole Vitola who works in an Atlantic City casino.

Atlantic City casino workers continue to ask Murphy to urge the legislature to send him a bill by April to sign that would end smoking in the Garden State’s nine gaming halls.

While running for re-election, Murphy said he supported banning smoking inside AC casinos.

Bill S1878/A4541 pending in the state legislature would eliminate the smoking ban exemption for casinos and simulcasting facilities.

CEASE called Monday’s legislative action the most significant to take place on this issue since lawmakers passed New Jersey’s clean air legislation nearly 17 years ago. A majority of lawmakers on the committee are cosponsors to the legislation.

“A clear pattern has emerged from New Jersey casino executives and lobbyists. Time after time, AC casinos make claims that turn out to be false, then they turn to the next weak argument to defend indoor smoking,” said Cynthia Hallett, president of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

UAW ‘strongly supports’ AC casino smoking ban

While 2022 land-based casino revenue hit a high of $5.2 billion, just half that amount came from slots and table games. Online gambling produced the rest.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Ocean Casino Resort and Resorts Atlantic City were the only casinos that surpassed pre-pandemic revenue levels from in-person gamblers in 2022.

Patrick Ashton of the United Auto Workers (UAW) (the only union in Atlantic City that represents casino dealers) testified in support of the legislation.

“We strongly support S264 because it would protect our members,”  Ashton said. “These employees are the most affected workers in a casino, as their job requires them to spend their entire shift an arm’s length from smokers, and are prohibited from even turning their heads away with significant sums of money on the tables under their watch.”

Photo by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights
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Stephanie Loder

Stephanie Loder is a freelance writer for PlayNJ. She provides coverage of New Jersey's Atlantic City casinos while also focusing on the beach, boardwalk, and special gaming events. Prior to writing for PlayNJ, she covered Atlantic City government, breaking news, and casinos for The Press of Atlantic City in Pleasantville, N.J.

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