Battle heating up over smoking in Atlantic City casinos

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The battle over whether smoking should be prohibited in Atlantic City’s casinos heated up Thursday, with a major business group opposing a ban, and a public health agency resigning from the business group in protest.

The Greater Atlantic City Chamber said efforts to ban smoking in the casinos should be dropped, warning it would cost jobs and hurt local businesses.

“A smoking ban would have a negative impact on the casino industry, resulting in significant job losses (and) decline in revenues, which in turn would hurt local businesses and vendors that rely on the industry for their economic livelihood,” said Michael Chait, the group’s president. “We recognize the concerns of casino employees who support a smoking ban, but we also must keep in mind that thousands of employees and their families will be impacted by lost jobs if a ban is passed.”

In response to that statement, Atlantic Prevention Resources, which deals with substance abuse in and near Atlantic City, resigned from the chamber on Thursday.

“We highly value our membership in the Greater A.C. Chamber, but as a public health agency we cannot continue to be members of an organization that places financial interests above health,” its executive director, Bob Zlotnick, said. “As a member of the local community, we would stand to be impacted by any loss in local business, but we cannot in good conscience put a price tag on the health of our families and neighbors.”

Nearly a third of the entire New Jersey state Senate has signed on as sponsors or cosponsors of a bill pending in the state Legislature that would close a loophole in the state’s indoor smoking law specifically exempting casinos.

“New Jersey should not allow any worker to be subjected to cancer-causing secondhand smoke while on the job,” said Sen. Andrew Zwicker, a central New Jersey Democrat.

“Smoking inside should no longer be acceptable in casinos,” added Sen. Jon Bramnick, a Republican from northern New Jersey. “Employees have the right to breathe while working without the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.”

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has said he will sign the bill if it passes.

But the casino industry opposes a smoking ban, arguing it will cost jobs and revenue while the casinos are still struggling to recover from losses inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group representing the Atlantic City casinos, commissioned a report last month warning of widespread layoffs and revenue declines if smoking were banned in the nine casinos.

Those claims were loudly rejected by many casino workers and smoking opponents.

“The Chamber is spewing more of the same scare tactics that are going over like a lead balloon with legislators in Trenton, especially considering that every state legislator representing Atlantic City supports this bill,” said Cynthia Hallett, president of Americans For Non-Smokers’ Rights. “If their members are concerned about in-person visitation, they should talk to the casino operators about the incessant promotion of online gambling that cannibalizes Atlantic City’s land-based business.”

Chait, president of the business group, said the success of the online gambling industry has created misperceptions about the overall health of Atlantic City’s casinos.

“The truth is employment and visitation are at 20-year lows,” he said. “Land-based gaming revenues are down from 2019, and have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. This is not the time to enact policy changes that could inflict yet another blow to an already-struggling industry and the employees, families and businesses that it supports.”


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