Atlantic City Casino Smoking Opponents Sniff Out Problems with Proposed Solutions
Atlantic City casino smoking opponents say the suggestions being pitched by the local gaming industry to limit workers’ exposure to secondhand smoke are nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
A growing coalition of Atlantic City casino workers wants the properties to go fully smoke-free. New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act provided an exemption for state casinos to designate up to 25% of their gaming floor space for indoor tobacco smoking.
Legislation to close the casino smoking loophole has majority support in both the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly. But the bills — Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151 — have not yet even received a committee hearing despite each measure having enough cosponsors for them to pass.
It’s widely believed that the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) has successfully lobbied the New Jersey Legislature’s leadership into delaying a smoking cessation bill as long as possible. The nine casinos claim they’re still reeling from the pandemic, and a smoking ban would cut into their gaming revenue and resort business, and subsequently lead to job losses.
Bob McDevitt, the union boss of the Unite Here Local 54 labor group that represents 10,000 workers employed by the casinos, has sided with the industry — not the workers who are seeking clean indoor work environments. McDevitt shares the opinion that fully smoke-free casinos would lead to mass layoffs.
The union leader says possible solutions continue to be explored, including outdoor gaming areas where smokers will be able to light up while gambling. But Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE), the nonprofit leading the anti-casino smoking fight in Atlantic City, says outdoor gaming patios remain hazardous for employees.
Outdoor smoking gaming areas are common in other parts of the nation. But critics say the spaces are essentially indoors, as the areas are still relatively enclosed environments with a roof and walls but small openings that let in fresh air.
Another proposal from the gaming interests and union is developing an opt-out policy that protects current Atlantic City casino workers’ jobs should they tell their employer that they no longer wish to work near or in a smoking area. CEASE co-founder Peter Naccarelli says that too is a non-starter. Naccarelli believes the opt-out plan might result in low-income job seekers taking jobs in the designated smoking areas.
The so-called opt-out idea only forces workers to risk their health for a paycheck. It is not a solution at all,” commented Naccarelli.
“A casino worker living paycheck to paycheck should not have to risk their health by working in a smoking area just to get by. But that’s exactly what would happen,” Naccarelli continued.
“The most vulnerable workers would suffer most. Legislators should recognize the problematic scenario this would create and reject this half-baked idea,” Naccarelli concluded.
According to the latest count, New Jersey Senate Bill 264 is sponsored by 20 of the 40 sitting state senators. Assembly Bill 2151 is sponsored by 44 assemblypersons of the 80-member lower chamber.
CEASE claims its organization has the support of thousands of casino dealers and other frontline gaming workers. The organization was formed after indoor casino smoking was permitted to return in Atlantic City after being temporarily put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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