Atlantic City casino workers think smoking ban is within reach

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — On the 16th anniversary of a New Jersey law banning indoor smoking in most public places except casinos — hundreds of Atlantic City casino activists on Tuesday urged state lawmakers to ban smoking in gambling halls. called upon.

The push for the Atlantic City casino industry comes at a critical time as it tries to regain business lost from the coronavirus pandemic, and braces for the opening of one or more additional casinos in New York City, which Atlantic City will compete for many. customer.

Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey has promised to sign the ban if it is passed, and an unusually large number of legislators have signed on to co-sponsor the bill.

But it faces stiff opposition from casinos and the main casino labor union in Atlantic City, which fear widespread job losses if casinos ban smoking.

About 250 casino workers gathered in a park near the ocean on Tuesday and called on lawmakers to pass a bill that would end casino exemptions from the indoor smoking law.

He says he has endured years of breathing secondhand smoke, watching coworkers die and getting sick himself.

“Sixteen years ago the state of New Jersey left us behind in smoke,” said Lamont White, a dealer at Borgata Casino. “We are not numbers; We are the people.”

The casino industry has opposed the measure, saying it will cost jobs and revenue amid an uneven recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, when only two casinos have surpassed the level of profitability they enjoyed before the pandemic began.

Nicole Vitola, another Borgata dealer, said it’s hard to see friends getting sick in workplaces that lack the same health protections other industries enjoy.

“It’s been 16 years since I was diagnosed with cancer, it’s been 16 years since our dear colleagues died,” she said. “We keep hearing, ‘Now is not the time.’ When would be the right time to take care of us?”

The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group of nine casinos in Atlantic City, recently commissioned a report predicting widespread job losses and declining revenues over a smoking ban in Atlantic City.

“Atlantic City has yet to see 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. Visits to Atlantic City are at a 20-year low, while gas prices and tolls are rising.

“And land-based casino revenue remains at a decrease of about 50% from our peak in 2006,” he said. “Adding a smoking ban could have devastating effects on the community and the state.”

Casino activists vehemently oppose the findings of that report, saying it does not take into account potential improvements in business conditions in the years after the smoking ban was implemented, as gamblers become used to a smoke-free environment.

In a letter sent Monday to state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, Local 54 president of the Unite Here casino workers union, Bob McDevitt, urged lawmakers not to pass a smoking ban.

“While we want to ensure that our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking at New Jersey casinos will mean losing jobs for our union and the state as a whole, and tax revenue and less money for senior programs. Gotta lose,” he wrote.

Earlier this month, state gambling regulators released figures showing that Atlantic City casinos have collectively exceeded the level of gross operating profit they achieved in 2020 before the pandemic broke out.

But virtually all of this improvement has come from two new casinos on the market, Hard Rock and Ocean, with seven remaining flat since the start of the pandemic.

The bill is yet to come up for hearing in the state legislature, though it continues to get the support of MPs from both sides. It has 28 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 15 in the Senate, which comprise the majority of health committees in both houses.

“The whole world has figured out how to eat outside and smoke outside,” said Claire Swift, a Republican assemblywoman. “Nine casinos can figure it out.”

“We know this bill will pass today with flying colors if it is put on the floor,” said Borgata dealer Pete Naccarelli. “Soon I’ll be grateful because I’ll be working in a smoke-free environment like everyone else in the state of New Jersey.”

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Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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