Officials in no rush to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s top political leadership is in no hurry to adopt — or even consider — a bill that would permanently ban smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos.
On the day when smoking opponents make a national push for people to kick the habit, New Jersey state Senate President Steve Sweeney said there has been no discussion about whether to move forward with a bill pending in the state Legislature to ban smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who earlier this month won re-election, has said he will sign the measure if lawmakers approve it.
But Sweeney, the state’s second-most powerful politician, who was defeated in a re-election bid in a shocking upset, showed no urgency Thursday to consider it.
That was the same day that smoking foes held another news conference to urge passage of the bill during the current lame-duck session of the Legislature, which ends Jan. 11 before the newly elected members are sworn in to office.
“We haven’t even started to talk about it, really, in any deep dialog,” Sweeney said before an appearance at a ground breaking ceremony for a supermarket in Atlantic City. “The governor, myself and the (Assembly) speaker have to get together and decide which bills we’re going to move forward.
“We’re not committing to ...” he said, his voice trailing off before adding, “I don’t know what the lame duck’s going to look like. The Legislature and the governor all have to be in agreement. So, we’ll see.”
That was not what smoking foes and several casino workers wanted to hear on the day of the Great American Smokeout, when people across the country are urged to try to stop smoking.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network released a poll it commissioned that showed New Jersey residents favor banning smoking in the casinos by a margin of greater than 2-to-1.
“We’re glad that New Jersey voters agree that we should not have to choose between our health and a paycheck,” said Robin Vitulle, a dealer supervisor in Atlantic City for more than 36 years. “From our experiences, our customers have no problem stepping outside to smoke because they must do so everywhere else. Then they come back inside and continue to gamble. We cannot wait any longer for clear air in our workplace and we urge the legislature to finally act to close the casino loophole.”
New Jersey’s law banning smoking in most indoor places specifically exempts casinos.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Murphy banned smoking as a virus transmission-prevention measure when the casinos reopened in July after 3 1/2 months of being closed.
That ban expired in April of this year, and smoking foes have been trying to get it reinstituted and made permanent ever since.
“Right now, our policy that allows smoking in casinos, but bans smoking outside the casino doors on Atlantic City boardwalks and beaches is not only inconsistent, it is inconsiderate and unfair to casino workers,” said state Sen. Shirley Turner, a central Jersey Democrat. “In this day and age, secondhand smoke should not be an occupational hazard.”
The situation is now what it was before the pandemic: Casino patrons can smoke on no more than 20% of the casino floor, signs designate areas where smoking is allowed, and the casinos have invested heavily in air filtration systems.
Earlier this year, the Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group representing the Atlantic City casinos, said a permanent ban would do great harm to the industry.
Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at @WayneParryAC