New Jersey legislators are holding another public hearing next week on a proposed smoking ban inside Atlantic City casinos.
Lawmakers on the Assembly Health and Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts committees are hosting a joint session at 10 a.m. March 9. According to the legislative calendar, the two committees will discuss Assembly bill A2151. The bill would eliminate the controversial “smoking loophole” exempting Atlantic City’s gambling parlors from the NJ Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006.
The Assembly bill is identical to Senate bill S264, which was the subject of a public hearing in February.
The companion pieces of legislation are sponsored or co-sponsored by 54 assembly members (out of 80) and 25 state senators (out of 40). A simple majority in both chambers is needed for legislation to pass. Gov. Phil Murphy has said he will sign the legislation into law.
Atlantic City casinos fear a smoking ban will drive customers away
Atlantic City casinos say an outright smoking ban would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Currently, up to 25% of the gaming floors in Atlantic City’s nine casinos can be designated smoking areas.
The former president of the Casino Association of New Jersey had this to say last year when the topic of a smoking ban was being debated in Trenton:
“The primary concern for New Jersey casinos is not that guests will stay at home, but that they will travel to another casino in Connecticut or Pennsylvania where smoking is permitted instead of coming to Atlantic City.”
Choosing between ‘health and a paycheck’
To counter AC’s financial concerns, proponents of eliminating indoor smoking point to high-performing casinos, such as Parx Casino in Bensalem, Penn. Parx voluntarily went smoke-free after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and is the only smoke-free casino in the Keystone State. It’s also PA’s highest-grossing property.
Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, called next week’s joint hearing “another important step towards finally protecting the health of Atlantic City casino workers.”
“After 17 years, the time is now to treat these workers like every other worker in New Jersey. … We look forward to making clear that this bill deserves a vote as soon as possible so that workers no longer must choose between their health and a paycheck.”
Previous AC casino smoking bans
Atlantic City casinos briefly went non-smoking in 2008 and quickly reversed course. The casinos reported a considerable decline in business during the three-week stretch.
The $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel opened as AC’s only non-smoking property in 2012. Revel was a bust. It closed less than two years later. Among the many post-mortem reasons for Revel’s failure was its non-smoking policy.
A temporary smoking ban inside Atlantic City casinos was in effect from July 2020 through July 2021 due to state COVID-19 restrictions.