atlantic-city-casino-smoking-legislation-set-for-senate-committee-hearing

Atlantic City Casino Smoking Legislation Set for Senate Committee Hearing

Legislation to prohibit smoking inside Atlantic City casinos will have its day in Trenton later this week.

Atlantic City casino smoking bill
A person smokes a cigarette while gambling on a slot machine in Atlantic City. A New Jersey Senate committee will consider a bill to ban casino smoking this week. (Image: AP)

The New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee on Thursday is scheduled to consider Senate Bill 264, an act that would eliminate the smoking ban exemption for casinos and simulcasting facilities. The legislation was introduced in January 2022 by Sens. Joseph Vitale (D-Northern Middlesex) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer).

Prohibiting indoor smoking in casinos and pari-mutuel wagering venues has bipartisan, widespread support in the Trenton capital. But Democratic leadership reportedly mothballed the bill and an Assembly component measure for nearly two years until this month’s elections played out.

Smoking Considerations

With the election behind, Democrats are now apparently more willing to take on such a controversial matter as casino smoking. The casino executives down the shore have warned lawmakers that a smoking ban could result in the elimination of 2,500 jobs, as such a regulation would hurt their gaming business.

When New Jersey lawmakers crafted the state’s Smoke-Free Air Act in 2006, they included provisions allowing casinos to designate up to 25% of their gaming floors for indoor tobacco use. Loopholes were also afforded to simulcasting facilities, cigar lounges, and bars where food service is “incidental” to alcohol revenue. Hotels can also allow smoking in 20% of their guestrooms.

For casinos to qualify for indoor smoking privileges, they must house a minimum of 150 slot machines and 10 table games. Each of the nine casinos easily meets those minimums.

Vitale and Turner’s bill seeks to remove the casino and simulcast gaming loopholes from the smoking law.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that casino workers are at greater risk for lung and heart disease because of secondhand smoke, and a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that the air in casinos can have up to 50 times more cancer-causing particles than the air on rush-hour highways,” Vitale and Turner said in their legislation.

“This bill would protect all workers in New Jersey from the hazards of secondhand smoke by requiring that casinos and casino simulcasting facilities be smoke-free workplaces,” they added.

Elections Decided

All 120 state Senate and Assembly seats were on the ballot for the Nov. 7 general election. The Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature since 2004, but after losing seats during the 2021 election, party leadership was worried about losing further seats or even a majority.

The 2021 election for the Republicans was highlighted by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Cumberland), the second most powerful Democrat in the state behind Gov. Phil Murphy, to a truck driver who personally spent just $153 on his campaign. Sweeney was a longtime supporter of Atlantic City and was adamantly opposed to legislation that would extinguish indoor smoking on the gaming floors.

However, on Nov. 7, 2023, the Democrats not only retained control of both chambers but expanded their stronghold. Democrats added five Assembly seats to their majority in the 80-seat lower chamber and kept their 10-seat majority in the 40-seat Senate.

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