Smoking Ban Bill In Atlantic City Casinos Gets Pulled Due To Lack Of Support

Written By David Danzis on December 15, 2023 - Last Updated on December 28, 2023
protesters of smoking in atlantic city casinos for a story on the senate pulling a bill that would ban smoking at gambling parlors

More than a few New Jersey lawmakers might be getting coal this holiday from angry Atlantic City casino workers who are fuming mad that a bill to end indoor smoking will not get a vote this year.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Services Committee was scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill to eliminate a legal loophole that allows smoking inside Atlantic City casinos.

Less than 24 hours before the public hearing, the committee chairman pulled the bill, citing a lack of support.

Atlantic City casinos still hold sway in Trenton

It is the second time in three weeks that lawmakers have pulled the rug out from under anti-smoking advocates.

Last week, dozens of casino workers made the 180-mile roundtrip to Trenton to attend a hearing, only to be told after more than 90 minutes of testimony that the bill did not have enough support from the nine-member committee for a vote.

“There were several co-sponsors who have decided to take their names off the bill for reasons that are unknown to me,” Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, the committee chairman, reportedly told PoliticoNJ.

“Other than that I’ve heard from one or two members, particularly on the other side of the aisle, that they wanted to consider some of the amendments being offered by the industry. They’re the same idiotic ideas that have been floated for years.”

Nonsmokers have options outside of Atlantic City casinos

Atlantic City casinos are concerned about losing business if customers are no longer allowed to light up indoors. In a last-ditch effort to avoid a total ban, the industry is offering amendments to the bill, including unmanned smoking rooms with slot machines and electronic table games.

The casinos say as many as 2,500 jobs could be at risk if business declines because of a smoking ban.

Nonsmoking casinos are becoming more and more common throughout the US. And Atlantic City is among the last holdouts of places that still allow indoor smoking.

The highest-grossing casino in the country outside of Nevada is MGM National Harbor, a 100% smoke-free property outside Washington DC. Pennslyvania’s largest gambling parlor, Parx Casino, is the Keystone State’s best performer. Parx voluntarily stayed smoke-free after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Righteous disobedience is the third-best disobedience, behind civil and peaceful

Thursday’s hearing was more of the same for furious AC casino workers. Some of them have been working toward getting their workplaces smoke-free since NJ passed the Smoke-Free Air Act in 2006.

Fed-up anti-smoking advocates even took their frustration out on Thursday in the most poetic of ways: lighting up cigarettes inside the Senate hearing chamber.

The lame-duck legislative session is typically an opportune time to expedite controversial bills. That is because lawmakers are less concerned about the immediate political ramifications of unpopular positions.

Getting the highly controversial AC casino smoking ban bill done during the lame-duck was supposed to be a slam dunk. As recently as last week, 83 out of a possible 120 state lawmakers were sponsors or co-sponsors. That number is now below 80, as more than a handful of lawmakers have rescinded their support.

But what really has some workers upset is the last-minute change of heart from legislators who either supported the ban or are co-sponsors of the measure. Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, is among those drawing ire from some casino employees.

State senator not on some casino workers’ holiday card mailing list anymore

Polistina, who just secured reelection to a second term in November, was a co-sponsor of the smoking ban. Yet, when offered a chance to sit in for one of the pro-casino senators on the health committee, Polistina allegedly deferred.

On Wednesday, the Atlantic County lawmaker told the local newspaper that he would introduce a new bill in the upcoming legislative session. Polistina’s proposal, according to The Press of Atlantic City, would “not ban smoking but would remove casino workers from secondhand smoke exposure.”

“My conversations with leaders in both houses make it clear that there is not enough support for this bill,” Polistina told the Associated Press on Thursday, referring to the original measure that would ban smoking without exceptions.

“It is disappointing that after two years of advocating and building support with our colleagues, we still do not have the necessary support in the Legislature to get a full smoking ban passed.”

The political backhand to casino workers pushing for a smoking ban came on the heels of an encouraging poll that they hoped would finally end the controversy altogether.

On Wednesday, a poll “commissioned by a coalition of public health non-profit organizations” showed that nearly three-fourths of Philadelphia area adults would be “more likely” to visit an AC casino if smoking were no longer allowed inside.

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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