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Gov. Murphy expresses support for smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos
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Gov. Murphy expresses support for smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos

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Smoke free protest

Casino workers and representatives from Smoke Free Atlantic City and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights gathered on the Boardwalk on June 30 to call for the state to permanently ban smoking on the casino floor.

If the state Legislature passes a bill to ban smoking permanently in Atlantic City’s casinos, it will have Gov. Phil Murphy’s seal of approval.

“You should assume that I will sign it,” Murphy said during an interview with News 12 on Tuesday when asked about permanently banning smoking in casinos.

Casinos in the resort had been operating smoke-free since last year when a temporary ban was initiated by Murphy shortly after the casinos reopened in July 2020 following COVID-19 related closures. That state-ordered ban was lifted July 4 this year.

Bob Zlotnick, co-founder of Smoke Free AC, said the organization is cautiously optimistic about Murphy’s stance.

“It has to get through the Assembly first,” Zlotnick said Thursday. “We’re hopeful, it’s really good news that Gov. Murphy said that, but if it doesn’t hit his desk he has nothing to sign.”

Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, shared similar concerns.

“We are grateful for the governor’s clear answer that he would sign legislation to close the casino loophole and protect the health of gaming employees while they are at work,” Hallett said in a statement Thursday. “However, we know that Senate President (Steve) Sweeney, in particular, stands in the way. The governor must go further and publicly call for Sen. Sweeney and Speaker (Craig) Coughlin to send a bill to his desk in the lame duck session. Atlantic City casino workers cannot wait any longer.”

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Murphy’s recent comments seem clearer and firmer than what his stance was just two months ago, when he stopped just short of saying he would support making the ban permanent.

“I would be very constructive on that (legislation),” Murphy said during a coronavirus briefing in June.

Six state officials have co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would close a loophole in the state law and eliminate the smoking ban exemption for casinos and simulcasting facilities. Democratic Sens. Shirley Turner and Joseph Vitale are the primary sponsors of the bill.

The 2007 New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act eliminated indoor smoking for nearly all establishments throughout the state but granted an exemption for Atlantic City’s gambling halls. Atlantic City passed its own ordinance that same year restricting casino smoking to no more than 25% of the gaming floor.

Casino officials, grassroots organizations and state lawmakers have been at odds about whether banning smoking permanently would harm or help the industry that is already suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic. Some casino officials have cited a potential loss of revenue as the reason to bring smoking back.

“Going completely nonsmoking would place Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other nearby casinos that allow smoking,” officials with the Casino Association of New Jersey have said. “A smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City, resulting in a decline in customers which would cause job loss, and ultimately a decline in tax revenue.”

According to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, Atlantic City casinos earned 11% higher profits in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of 2019, prior to the pandemic.

In June, Atlantic City’s casinos set a new monthly record for gross gambling revenue, winning more than $345 million, four times as much as the nine casinos won last June, when they were closed due to the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Molly Shelly:

609-272-7241

mshelly@pressofac.com

Twitter @mollycshelly

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