Atlantic City Casino Smoking Ban Debate Drags On

Erik Gibbs

A smoking ban sign on a brick wall

The legal struggle to extinguish smoking in Atlantic City casinos has ignited a complex debate in New Jersey. At the heart of the controversy are a lawsuit and legislation aiming to ban smoking within these establishments, but the outcome of both is still unclear.

The Smoke-Free Air Act of 2006, which currently exempts casinos from its smoking ban, is at the center of this legal and legislative tug-of-war. Advocates for the ban argue that the exemption undermines the health and safety of casino workers, while opponents caution against potential economic fallout.

Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE), a group formed by anti-tobacco casino workers and their supporters, and the United Auto Workers teamed up to sue the state over its casino smoking policy. However, Local 54 of the Unite Here union, which also represents thousands of casino employees, is trying to stop the suit. 

Local 54 found an ally in New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin. The Associated Press reports that Platkin, with the support of Local 54, has advocated for the dismissal of this lawsuit. He has argued that the courts are not the appropriate venue for altering a statute that has been in effect for over 18 years. 

Legislation lingers on both sides of the debate

Simultaneously, there is legislative momentum building against smoking in casinos. State Sen. Joseph Vitale has sponsored a bill that seeks to clear the air in gaming venues by banning smoking. This bill has successfully passed through committee in the upper chamber; however, Vitale has been trying to pass similar legislation for 18 years without success. 

For now the bill has stalled, unable to advance further in the legislative process. A companion bill in the Assembly has similarly seen no movement, reflecting the complex interplay of health concerns, individual rights, and economic implications that this issue presents.

Sen. John Burzichelli is taking a different stance on the subject. He introduced a bill in February that would specifically authorize casinos to continue to provide indoor smoking areas. The bill is still on the table. 

Smoke-free casinos stay alive

Over 1,000 casinos in the U.S., including tribal casinos, have implemented smoke-free policies. The assertion that smoking bans in casinos do not lead to a reduction in revenue is supported by recent studies and reports. In fact, data from multiple jurisdictions suggests that casinos that have implemented non-smoking policies are performing as well, if not better, than those that allow smoking. 

In Delaware, the implementation of a smoking ban in casinos and racinos in 2002 resulted in a slight decrease in revenue, but also a reduction in costs related to ventilation. Similarly, in Illinois, despite an initial drop in revenue following the smoking ban, the long-term effects were not as detrimental as anticipated. 

Las Vegas’ Park MGM reopened in 2020 as a fully non-smoking property and has thrived.

2022 report by C3 Gaming, an independent consulting group, challenged the notion that smoke-free policies hurt casinos financially. The research suggests minimal economic risk, paving the way for smoke-free transitions.

Despite those indicators, Mark Giannantonio, the president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and Atlantic City’s Resorts casino, calls a potential smoking ban “one of the greatest threats to our business right now.”