Hundreds of employees at Atlantic City casinos lobbied state legislators to outlaw smoking in gambling halls on New Jersey’s 16th anniversary, a statute prohibiting smoking inside — except in casinos. The initiative comes at a critical juncture for the industry, which is attempting to recuperate lost revenue due to the coronavirus outbreak while also preparing to establish one or more additional casinos in New York City, which will compete for many of Atlantic City’s casinos.
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The Fight Between The State And The Casino Workers
Phil Murphy, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, promised to sign the ban if it passed, and an unusually high number of lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
But it faces strong opposition from casinos and Atlantic City’s main casino labor union, which fear widespread job losses if smoking is banned.
In April, over 250 casino employees met in a park near the coast to lobby politicians to repeal the casinos’ exemption from the indoor smoking ban.
They say they endured years of breathing secondhand smoke, watching colleagues die, and falling ill.
“Sixteen years ago, the state of New Jersey left us behind in the smoke,” said Lamont White, a worker at Borgata Casino. “We are not numbers; we are people.”
The casino industry opposes the move, saying it will cost jobs and revenue amid an uneven recovery from the coronavirus pandemic when just two casinos had surpassed the level of profitability they enjoyed before the pandemic began.
Nicole Vitola, another Borgata dealer, said it’s irritating to see friends get sick in workplaces that don’t have the same health protections that other industries enjoy.
“It was 16 years of cancer diagnoses, 16 years of watching our dear co-workers die. We keep hearing, ‘Now is not the time. When is the right time to worry about us?”
The Casino Association of New Jersey, representing Atlantic City’s nine casinos, recently commissioned a report projecting massive job losses and income drops if smoking were outlawed.
“Atlantic City has not yet seen growth from pre-pandemic levels,” said association president Joe Lupo. “Employment at our casinos is at a 20-year low, with less than 50% of the workforce since 2003. Visitation to Atlantic City is at a 20-year low, while gas prices and tolls are rising.”
“And land-based casino revenue continued to be down nearly 50% from our peak in 2006. Adding a smoking ban could have a devastating effect on the community and the state.”
Casino executives vehemently disagree with the report’s results, claiming that it fails to account for a likely improvement in economic circumstances after the smoking ban as gamblers adjust to a smoke-free environment.
Bob McDevitt, president of the 54 Unite Here casino employees’ union, wrote to State Senate President Nicholas Scutari on Monday urging lawmakers not to enact the smoking ban.
“While we want to ensure our members work in a safe working environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean losing jobs for our union and across the state and tax revenue and less money for senior programs.”
This isn’t the first time the indoor smoking prohibition at the New Jersey casino has been challenged. Atlantic City outlawed it in 2008, and gaming revenue decreased by 20% in the first week. The city reversed the smoking restriction, citing fiscal challenges and a worsening economy, and Atlantic City casinos were again allowed to offer smoking on 25% of the casino floor.
The non-dealer casino employees union here opposes any attempt to reintroduce the ban, citing concerns about dwindling revenue and employment cuts.
However, the Auto Workers Union, which represents dealers at three Atlantic City casinos, and the United Food and Commercial Workers have subsequently joined the campaign to make casinos smoke-free.
Casino executives vehemently disagree with the report’s results, claiming that it fails to account for a likely improvement in economic circumstances in the years after the smoking ban as gamblers adjust to a smoke-free environment.
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino employees’ union, wrote to State Senate President Nicholas Scutari on Monday urging lawmakers not to enact the smoking ban.
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