‘Huge’ News On NJ Casino Smoking Ban Coming April 5, Per Anti-Smoking Advocacy Group

Written By David Danzis on March 15, 2024
CEASE'S Peter Naccarelli participates in a rally to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos, also teasing

Anti-smoking advocates who are leading the charge to snuff out smoking inside Atlantic City casinos are hinting that something big is about to happen.

Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects, more commonly known as C.E.A.S.E., is teasing its more than 3,000 Facebook page followers about a “huge announcement” on Friday, April 5, in Trenton at the Statehouse.

But, just what that “huge announcement” is remains a mystery.

Sneaky big news on the way for AC casino smoking ban?

Pete “P.J.” Naccarelli, a C.E.A.S.E. co-founder and table games dealer at AC’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, refuses to say what’s in store for April 5. Instead, Naccarelli has been playfully encouraging his casino employee colleagues and anti-smoking allies on Facebook to have fun with what it could be, with some guesses ranging from presidential campaign bids to high-profile celebrities lending their support to the cause.

Another user on the C.E.A.S.E. group posted a sign-up sheet for the event, noting “a big rally to keep up the momentum” that will feature “big news coming with a special guest.”

C.E.A.S.E.’s trepidation to make bold public proclamations is understandable. No one has been burned more by Trenton in recent years than AC casino employees who want a smoke-free workplace.

One thing that won’t happen on April 5 is a vote to end smoking inside Atlantic City casinos.

A bill to end smoking inside AC casinos made it out of a state Senate committee earlier this year. But Trenton insiders say there is still a lot more to do before the bill crosses the finish line.

Besides, the State Legislature does not meet on Fridays except during budget negotiations.

So, what could C.E.A.S.E. have planned?

UAW throwing money all over the ACE

Well, the United Auto Workers has thrown considerable political weight behind the anti-smoking efforts in recent months. UAW Region 9 represents nearly 1,200 table games dealers in three AC casinos.

Involving an international union has already paid dividends, which can be seen on the Atlantic City Expressway. Just east of the Pleasantville toll plaza, a C.E.A.S.E./UAW anti-smoking billboard now welcomes motorists to the city.

That may not seem like a big deal to those unfamiliar with the economics of AC. But buying a prime billboard spot typically occupied by a casino operator is essentially a declaration of war against the gaming industry.

Given that the AC casino industry is fighting tooth and nail to maintain the status quo, it comes as no surprise that C.E.A.S.E. and other anti-smoking proponents are taking the fight to the casinos’ front door.

NJ banned indoor smoking in 2006 with the Smoke-Free Air Act. The law contained an exemption for AC casinos (and a few other legacy businesses). An Atlantic City ordinance limiting smoking to no more than 25% of the gaming floor is the only guardrail in place.

Atlantic City casinos fighting multiple battles on several fronts

The casino industry is concerned about the economic fallout from a total smoking ban. Pennsylvania casinos are less than an hour away and still allow smoking.

That makes AC gambling executives nervous.

The casinos have good reason to be worried, too, because, despite glowing headlines about the overall success of NJ’s gambling industry, Atlantic City is treading water.

Only three of the nine AC casinos are generating more in-person gambling revenue today than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry has posted operating profit losses in five consecutive quarters. There are currently 25% fewer AC casino jobs in 2024 than there were just four years ago. And according to some executives, visitation hit a 20-year low in 2023.

All of that is happening while the most significant external threat ever to AC casinos looms larger each day.

New York is close to awarding gaming licenses for three downstate casino licenses, and some of the proposed multi-billion-dollar projects dwarf anything in Atlantic City. The recently released Wynn project in Hudson Yards, the Hard Rock/Steve Cohen bid in Queens, or the Caesars/SL Green proposal for Times Square could decimate all but a handful of AC casinos.

Sometimes tough choices aren’t really that tough

None of that matters to AC casino employees, who are making the point that they should not have to choose between their health and a paycheck.

While some NJ lawmakers have floated the idea of a compromise, AC casino workers say no deal. They want nothing short of a total smoking ban inside the gambling parlors.

Maybe anti-smoking advocates will show their cards on April 5, and reveal if they have a winning hand.

Photo by Wayne Parry / AP Photo
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David Danzis

David Danzis is the lead writer for PlayNJ. He is a New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University. As a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, David earned statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports, and business. Today, he is PlayNJ’s Atlantic City “insider” and gaming industry expert on casinos, sports betting, and online gambling. David lives in Atlantic County, NJ with his wife and two children.

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