Cigarette smokers can light up inside Atlantic City casinos this weekend after more than a year of being prohibited from doing so because of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Jersey’s COVID-19 public health emergency expires July 3 so smoking inside casinos can resume on Independence Day.
Atlantic City casinos are among of handful of exemptions to the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act. City law permits smoking on up to 25% of a casino floor.
A temporary smoking ban inside Atlantic City’s nine casinos was implemented when the industry reopened last summer following a months-long shutdown due to COVID-19. But, the 30-day countdown to smoking’s return began June 4 when Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation ending the public health emergency.
Workers’ rally for smoke-free Atlantic City casinos
Dozens of casino workers and anti-smoking advocates gathered Wednesday morning on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. They were imploring the state to permanently ban smoking inside the casinos.
The Press of Atlantic City said demonstrators wore matching T-shirts and held signs displaying slogans such as “Save my lungs” and “Casino employees’ lives matter.” Demonstrators also marched along the Boardwalk chanting, “Smoke Free A.C.!”
Janice Green, a dealer at the Tropicana, told The Associated Press she has worked in Atlantic City casinos for 40 years.
“Being in the business so long, I have lung disease,” she said. “I have asthma because of it. It’s under control now, but if you bring smoking back, I’m going to be back on inhalers, and I don’t want that.”
Murphy signals support for full smoking ban
A few New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill to permanently ban smoking inside Atlantic City casinos. So far, the legislation has not advanced.
Murphy addressed questions about casino smoking during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
“Would I be open-minded, would I be constructive on legislation — because I need to do this statutorily — that could come to me in the future to extend that ban or make it permanent? I would be constructive,” he said.
The governor is no ally to smokers. In 2019, he signed a law severely limiting outdoor smoking on beaches and in state parks.
Smoking is allowed on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, but not the city’s beaches.
Quick numbers on smoking, Atlantic City casinos
A 2008 Atlantic City visitor profile survey performed by Spectrum Gaming Group for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority found that 23% of casino customers smoke. No such study has been conducted since.
As of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that less than 14% of Americans smoke. In 2008, that number was nearly 21%.
CANJ position: smoking ban hurts business
Atlantic City casinos say banning smoking would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Pennsylvania is the only nearby state that allows smoking in casinos.
“A smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City, resulting in a decline in customers which would cause job loss, and ultimately a decline in tax revenue,” the Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.
AC 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, which opened as AC’s only non-smoking property in 2012, was a bust closing less than two years later. Among the many post-mortem reasons for Revel’s failure was its non-smoking policy.
Anti-smoking advocates say ‘It’s past time’
Smoking in casinos is becoming a rarity. Nearly 20 states and dozens of jurisdictions have banned smoking inside casinos.
“Indoor smoke doesn’t need to return; this is a relic of pre-COVID environments,” Onjewel Smith of American Nonsmokers’ Rights said during Wednesday’s rally on the AC Boardwalk. “It’s past time to make smoke-free air a permanent feature so that no one is exposed to toxic secondhand smoke.”
Fresh air in Atlantic City casinos?
Atlantic City casinos say air filtration systems installed at nearly every property during the pandemic provide adequate ventilation.
“With the onset of the pandemic, independent experts reviewed our air filtration systems, confirming their effectiveness in exchanging large volumes of air and keeping the air quality fresh and clean,” the CANJ said in a statement.
Ashley Pushman of Smoke Free Atlantic City told the local newspaper: “The ventilation systems don’t provide safety. There’s no ventilation out there that can possibly protect anyone from secondhand smoke.”