NJ Senator Introduces Compromise To Atlantic City Casino Smoking Ban

Written By David Danzis on February 16, 2024 - Last Updated on February 26, 2024
Photo of woman smoking at Ocean Casino in NJ, where Sen. John Burzichelli has proposed a compromise to the smoking ban bill

While efforts to permanently ban smoking inside Atlantic City casinos are starting to seem like an inevitability, at least one New Jersey lawmaker is still trying to find a middle ground.

State Sen. John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, has introduced a bill that modifies existing state law to limit indoor smoking to no more than 25% of the casino floor and restrict smoking within 15 feet of live dealer table games. The legislation would also permit smoking inside enclosed gaming areas, providing that no casino employee be mandated to work in those areas.

The bill, S2651, has bipartisan support, with two Republican senators joining Burzichelli and three other Democrats as sponsors. After being introduced on Feb. 12, the bill was referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

Atlantic City casino smoking ban bill has momentum

That same Senate health committee recently approved a bill to completely ban smoking inside Atlantic City casinos, closing the so-called casino loophole in the state’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act.

Nearly two-thirds of the 120-member State Legislature have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors of the Senate and Assembly versions of the casino smoking ban proposals. Gov. Phil Murphy has said he would sign the bill into law.

Presently, an Atlantic City municipal ordinance is the only restriction to the casino exemption in the state’s smoke-free air law. AC city code caps smoking to 25% of the casino floors.

Battle lines over smoking at AC casinos

The Atlantic City casino industry opposes the smoking ban. AC gambling executives are concerned that eliminating smoking would put them at a competitive disadvantage to casinos that still allow smoking, such as those in Philadelphia, which is less than an hour away.

Burzichelli told the Associated Press:

“It’s about what we can do to keep casinos open, and how do we get it right. Losing one casino means thousands of jobs lost.”

Anti-smoking advocates say nothing short of an outright ban is acceptable. In Atlantic City, a group of workers formed Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects, or C.E.A.S.E., to demand the loophole be closed for good.

On Wednesday, C.E.A.S.E. issued a statement in response to Burzichelli’s bill. It reads, in part:

“This bill would retain the same level of smoking as is currently permitted and will not decrease in any way the amount of exposure workers have to secondhand smoke.”

Gamblers’ shifting habits are starting to show in AC

The smoking ban proposals are coming at a precarious time for Atlantic City’s nine casinos.

Two-thirds of the market failed to match pre-pandemic (2019) in-person gambling revenue performance levels in 2023. Most of the casinos’ gross operating profits have declined for several consecutive quarters. NJ online casinos are on pace to generate as much or more annual revenue as brick-and-mortar operators.

Photo by AP Photo/Wayne Parry
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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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