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VOTE NOW: Should smoking return to Atlantic City casinos?

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In Atlantic City, with the casinos no longer allowed to have indoor smoking per Gov. Phil Murphy’s order, smokers now have to vacate the building to light up.

Should smoking return to Atlantic City Casinos?

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ATLANTIC CITY — After smoking in the resort’s casinos was temporarily prohibited last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of smoking making a return to casino floors is still up in the air.

“No update on smoke, nothing there,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a news conference Monday.

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

“Atlantic City casinos cater to a diverse and dynamic cross section of guests, including both smokers and non-smokers. Banning smoking permanently would have long-term financial implications for the industry and the region,” officials from the Casino Association of New Jersey said in a statement Tuesday. “Going completely nonsmoking would place Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other nearby casinos that allow smoking. 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.”

If the smoking ban is lifted, the association said, the resort’s casinos are ready to cater to nonsmokers with new air filtration systems.

“We also understand that air quality is extremely important to the health and safety of our valued employees and guests, which is why we have invested in state-of-the-art air filtration systems that circulate fresh air,” officials said. “With the onset of the pandemic, independent experts reviewed our air filtration systems, confirming their effectiveness in exchanging large volumes of air and keeping the air quality fresh and clean.”

On the other side of the argument, a handful of state lawmakers along with Smoke-Free Atlantic City, an organization that is part of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, have continued to push to uphold the ban.

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. Sens. Shirley Turner and Joseph Vitale are the primary sponsors of the bill with Sens. Patrick Diegnan Jr., Chris Brown (R-Atlantic), Loretta Weinberg and Teresa Ruiz cosponsoring it.

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 an ordinance restricting casino smoking to no more than 25% of the gaming floor.

“I am pleased to have the support of my colleagues in extending the smoking ban to casinos and correcting this omission that increases health risks to casino workers and patrons,” said Turner, D-Hunterdon, Mercer. “When the Legislature passed the Smoke-Free Air Act in 2006, it was a step toward ensuring that all New Jerseyans have access to safe, healthy, smoke-free workplaces. We know that exposure to secondhand smoke presents serious health risks, and it is time that casino workers and non-smoking patrons have the same protection from this danger as other indoor workers and customers enjoy in the state.”

Smoke Free Atlantic City sent a letter to Murphy on May 7 stating that upholding the indoor smoking ban is “a common sense policy decision.”

“The trend towards smokefree — 23 states, more than 160 tribal gaming properties and nearly 1,100 casinos nationwide do not permit smoking indoors — continues to gain momentum,” the letter said. “New Jersey risks falling behind the trend if casinos revert back to a pre-pandemic world and allow indoor smoking. It’s time to recognize the overwhelming support for smokefree casinos and that customers now have an expectation of health and safety when they visit a public place.”

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, 14% of adults in the state are cigarette smokers. New Jersey ranks sixth lowest among all states for the prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults.

Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University, cited the documented correlation between banning smoking and revenue loss in casinos.

“For example, a 2005 study cited a 9% to 16% decrease in casino revenue in Delaware associated with a smoking ban and a 2009 study found a more than 20% decrease in Illinois also attributed to a ban on smoking,” Bokunewicz said in an email Tuesday. “Casino operators have struggled to balance the needs of smoking and non-smoking guests while maintaining casino revenues.”

But almost a year into Atlantic City’s smoking ban, casinogoers have had time to get used to the new rules, Bokunewicz said.

“Now that smoking has been banned in casinos for almost a year, casino customers have had a chance to adjust to the change,” Bokunewicz said. “Although it is hard to predict what would happen if the ban continues, the impact to revenue may not be as drastic as was found in the other studies.”

Bokunewicz said banning smoking across the board would work better than leaving the decision up to individual locations.

“It is easier for casinos to implement a smoking ban when it is required by regulators because all casinos in the area must follow the same restrictions,” Bokunewicz said. “It eliminates the possibility of one casino losing market share to competitors. Revel casino opened as the only smoke-free casino in Atlantic City in 2012 only to reverse the no-smoking policy when they entered bankruptcy in 2013. The ability for gamblers to visit neighboring states where smoking is permissible is also a consideration when regulators are making decisions regarding smoking.”


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