Bill would let Atlantic City casinos keep smoking on gaming floor with some restrictions

February 14, 2024 8:51 PM
Photo: American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation (courtesy)/Casino smoking protest outside New Jersey statehouse
  • Wayne Parry, Associated Press
February 14, 2024 8:51 PM
  • Wayne Parry, Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Atlantic City casinos would be able to continue to allow gamblers to smoke on the casino floor under a new bill that would impose additional restrictions on lighting up.

Story continues below

New Jersey state Sen. John Burzichelli introduced a bill Monday giving the casinos much of what they want amid a push by many casino workers to prohibit smoking altogether.

His measure would keep the current 25% limit of the casino floor on which smoking can occur.

But it would allow smoking in unenclosed areas of the casino floor that contain slot machines and are designated as smoking areas that are more than 15 feet away from table games staffed by live dealers. It also would allow the casinos to offer smoking in enclosed, separately ventilated smoking rooms with the proviso that no worker can be assigned to work in such a room against their will.

Whether to ban smoking is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City casinos, but in other states where workers have expressed concern about secondhand smoke. They are waging similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Virginia.

The move sets up a fight between to competing bills: Burzichelli’s, which he describes as a compromise giving something to both sides, and a different bill that would end smoking altogether in the casinos.

“It’s about what we can do to keep casinos open, and how do we get it right,” said Burzichelli, a Democrat from southern New Jersey and a former deputy speaker of the state Assembly. “Losing one casino means thousands of jobs lost.”

Atlantic City’s nine casinos say they fear that banning smoking while neighboring states including Pennsylvania continue to offer it would cost them jobs and revenue. Workers dispute that contention, saying that smoke-free casinos have thrived in other states. They also say their health should come before casino profits.

The group CEASE (Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Harmful Effects) issued a statement Wednesday calling Burzichelli’s bill “Big Tobacco and casino industry talking points, copied and pasted.”

“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,” the statement read. It added that the only bill with enough support to be passed and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is the total ban.

Murphy has pledged to sign a smoking ban into law once passed by the Legislature.

On Wednesday, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network urged New Jersey lawmakers to reject the new bill and enact the total smoking ban.

“Since the 1980s, we’ve known that secondhand smoke can cause cancer, along with a host of other devastating health effects, like heart disease,” the group said in a statement. “Yet despite the crystal-clear proof that exposure to secondhand smoke is bad, and that smoke-free laws work, lawmakers continue to force Atlantic City workers to choose between their paycheck and breathing in secondhand smoke.”

The Casino Association of New Jersey did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But it has previously said a total smoking ban would chase business to other states, jeopardizing jobs and state tax revenue.

Burzichelli’s bill was referred to the same state Senate committee that last month advanced the total smoking ban bill. He said he has not counted heads to see how much support his bill has.

It is not currently scheduled for a hearing.

Casinos were specifically exempted from New Jersey’s 2006 law that banned smoking in virtually all other workplaces.