Outdoor Gambling Floated to Solve Atlantic City Smoking Impasse

Many Atlantic City casino workers want smoking banned inside their workplaces. They’re sick of being sickened by second-hand smoke. And most New Jersey legislators agree. But gaming and casino association executives fear a smoking ban would hurt their bottom line. Outdoor gambling is being floated as a compromise.

A promotional photo shows one of the semi-outdoor gaming patios at Harrah’s New Orleans.
A promotional photo shows one of the semi-outdoor gaming patios at Harrah’s New Orleans. Similar areas could prove the solution to an impasse over a proposed smoking ban in Atlantic City. (Image: caesars.com)

I Don’t Dig Your Cig

For more than two years, according to a report by the Associated Press, casino workers have called on the New Jersey Legislature to enact a bill that bans smoking from inside Atlantic City’s nine casinos, practically the only state workplaces that still allow it.

More than half the state’s lawmakers have signed onto this bill as sponsors or co-sponsors. Democratic state Sen. Shirley Turner, a sponsor, called it “imperative” that indoor smoking come to an end in casinos.

“There are solutions, such as truly outdoor areas for guests who smoke that do not compromise worker health,” she said.

However, the bill has languished for months without a hearing. A similar bill introduced last year suffered a similar fate. Workers blame pushback from the Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry’s trade association, which has stated that a smoking ban would lead to lower earnings and fewer jobs.

“Additional time is required to devise and implement a solution that will address the concerns of our employees without jeopardizing jobs and benefits to seniors,” said Joe Lupo, president of the casino association.

Take it Outside, Buddy!

Gambling in outdoor areas seems to provide the only hope of satisfying both sides. According to AP, workers, casino officials and state Legislators are currently discussing what that might look like in Atlantic City.

“We’ve been speaking about this idea with the industry and with the state government since before the summer,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union. “We want to resolve this with a solution that works for everyone, and I believe that’s attainable.”

In Las Vegas, outdoor gambling mostly occurs around, and sometimes, in, swimming pools, with card games offered at swim-up tables. But Atlantic City already has outdoor gambling like that. About 10 years ago, the Golden Nugget debuted a gambling deck that is similarly open to the elements. The reason this is not a good solution to the smoking problem is that the weather permits using it for less than half the year. Atlantic City’s average low temperature dips into the 30s from December to March.

Maryland’s definition of outdoor gambling, in contrast, is an enclosed space, separate from the floor, with a roof, walls and some openings to allow air inside.

A good compromise might be the outdoor gaming areas at Harrah’s New Orleans. These patios are climate-controlled yet feature open walls. However, according to the AP report, those areas cost $10- $15 million to build, which not all Atlantic City casinos may be able to afford.

“The devil is in the details,” Pete Naccarelli, a dealer at the Borgata, told AP. “As long as no worker is exposed to secondhand smoke, a truly outdoor area could be a workable solution.”

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