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EAST COAST GAMING CONGRESS

Smoking ban talk nixed at gaming conference, but workers get loud outside casino

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A dense cloud of smoke from fires in the Paraná Delta wetlands has made the air unbreathable and affected the health of the inhabitants of riverside towns. The Paraná Delta, a wetland rich in biodiversity around the river of the same name and which includes parts of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Entre Ríos, has been the epicenter for more than three years of brush fires that have devastated thousands of hectares. It is suspected that the fires were deliberate to favor livestock and real estate businesses.

ATLANTIC CITY — Irate that a session to discuss a proposed smoking ban during a major casino industry conference was snuffed out, casino workers and patrons opposed to smoking in the gambling halls held a noisy protest outside the meeting Thursday.

About 100 people rallied in the rain underneath a walkway outside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, demanding the state Legislature act on a bill to ban casino smoking that has the support of more than half of state lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy.

The bill has been stalled without a hearing in a state Senate or Assembly committee, and a similar measure died without a vote last year as well.

Thursday afternoon, the East Coast Gaming Congress was to have included a panel discussion on casino smoking, an issue that is roiling workers, customers and lawmakers not only in New Jersey but in states including Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and others.

It was scrapped when the casino industry representative, Resorts Casino Hotel President Mark Giannantonio, withdrew. He recently became president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the Atlantic City casinos' trade association, which vehemently opposes a smoking ban.

“The CANJ is running and hiding right now,” said Peter Naccarelli, a dealer at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and a leader of a push by casino workers to ban smoking in their workplaces. “They have no logical arguments.”

Lamont White, another Borgata dealer opposed to smoking, said the casino industry's main argument has always been, “We'd lose money, and money is more important than casino workers' lives.”

“That's all they have to say,” he said.

Giannantonio declined to comment on Thursday's demonstration, referring a reporter to a statement the casino association issued earlier this month in which it said "an immediate smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City.”

Murphy, the state's Democratic governor, has promised to sign the bill if it passes. But Legislative leaders have thus far refused to set a hearing date for a committee in either the Senate or Assembly, which has to happen before the bill can move forward.

Murphy addressed Thursday's conference but did not mention the proposed ban in any detail.

But during an afternoon session, Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, which owns Pennsylvania's smoke-free Parx casino, said that policy has been successful.

“So far, so good,” he said.

When reopening in 2020 after the initial wave of the pandemic, Hausler said, Parx decided to remain smoke-free, “for better or worse. If you look at our market share numbers, they're holding up just fine. We intend to stay that way. Our customers have gotten used to it."

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As sports betting has swept across the country, internet casino games have grown much more slowly. But the online casino market has tremendous potential for growth and expansion, according to participants in a major casino conference. Speaking Friday at the East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City, executives of online gambling companies said the rapid growth of sports betting provides a ready-made infrastructure and regulatory apparatus for online casino games. So far, it's legal in only six states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, Delaware and Connecticut. But panelists predicted additional states could soon adopt internet gambling, including Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and New York.

A New York City man alleges in a lawsuit that an Atlantic City casino and others paid him $30,000 a month to not report being repeatedly disconnected while gambling online. Sam Antar says he is a compulsive gambler. He says his habit was well-known to defendants including the Borgata casino, MGM Resorts International, and its online partner Entain. He says he gambled more than $29 million over nine months, getting disconnected every 15 minutes or so. His lawsuit accuses the defendants of fraud, racketeering and other transgressions. The companies either declined comment or did not respond to requests to do so.

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