Atlantic City casino workers urge New Jersey Gov. to call on legislative leaders to pass smoking ban bill

New Jersey casino workers are urging Governor Phil Murphy to call on legislative leaders to pass a bill that would get rid of smoking in Atlantic City gaming properties. Workers are calling on Murphy to discuss the issue during his upcoming State of the State address, set for Tuesday. 

In a letter from the co-founders and co-leaders of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE), workers urged Murphy to push lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation to close the casino smoking loophole by April 15. The date marks 17 years since the legislature passed the Clean Indoor Air Act, which specifically excluded casinos. 

Ever since indoor smoking returned to our workplaces on July 4, 2021, we have been fighting to protect our health by closing the casino smoking loophole in New Jersey law that gives the casinos a special exemption that no other business receives,” CEASE leaders wrote. 

“When you deliver your State of the State address on Tuesday, we are asking that you call on legislative leaders to send bipartisan legislation to close the casino smoking loophole to your desk by April 15,” the statement further reads. Casino workers call themselves “the only group of workers in the state forced to choose between our health and a paycheck.”

The letter noted Governor Murphy’s support of their cause and commitment to sign legislation should it pass. “We are grateful for your support of our fight. You have spoken out repeatedly in favor of legislation that is being co-sponsored by more than half of all members of both legislative chambers,” CEASE wrote. However, the group noted opposition from the industry.

“The casinos are stalling and will always find a reason for why ‘now is not the right time’,” workers added. “Enough already. As we begin 2023 and the 17th year since legislators first created the casino smoking loophole, it’s long past time to prioritize the health of thousands of casino workers in Atlantic City who deserve the same healthy workplace as every other New Jersey employee.”

Legislation to eliminate the casino smoking loophole has earned more cosponsors than most other bills this legislative session in Trenton, reports Insider NJ. It has been over 500 days since smoking returned to Atlantic City casinos after a temporary Covid-related ban, and legislation to get rid of smoking is now cosponsored by 45 state assembly members and 23 state senators– a bipartisan majority in both chambers.

Governor Phil Murphy has repeatedly affirmed that he would sign the legislation. “At the end of the day, we will still get good business. Atlantic City is an American gem,” he recently said. “We’ve got the ocean and the other competitors don’t. And this is the right thing for our respective health.”

However, not everyone is in favor of the move. Last week, Unite Here Local 54 leader Bob McDevitt, which represents Atlantic City casino employees, proclaimed to be against the bill. He said New Jersey should wait to ban smoking until Pennsylvania does, in order to avoid a competitive disadvantage. 

“If people opt not to go, that means they’re not staying in the hotel, that means there’s no reason to have them make the hotel beds. It won’t just have an effect on folks who are dealers, and folks who are bartenders,” said McDevitt, as reported by NJ Spotlight News. “If you take away the option to smoke, and you allow it in Pennsylvania, there’s going to be a net drop in gaming in New Jersey.”

A recent report by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming found that casinos without indoor smoking outperform their smoking counterparts and that Atlantic City would not lose gamblers to the handful of remaining eastern Pennsylvania casinos that allow indoor smoking.