Atlantic City casino workers feel a smoking ban is within reach | New Jersey News

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — On the 16th anniversary of a New Jersey law banning smoking indoors in most public places — except casinos — hundreds of casino workers of Atlantic City on Tuesday called on state lawmakers to ban smoking in gambling halls.

The push comes at a crucial time for Atlantic City’s casino industry as it tries mightily to regain business lost to the coronavirus pandemic, and prepares for one or more additional casinos to open. in New York, which will compete for many Atlantic City casinos. customers.

New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has promised to sign the ban if it passes, and an unusually high number of lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

But he faces strong opposition from casinos and Atlantic City’s main casino union, who fear widespread job losses if smoking is banned in casinos.

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About 250 casino workers gathered at a park near the ocean on Tuesday to demand lawmakers pass a bill that would end the casinos’ exemption from the indoor smoking law.

They say they endured years breathing in second-hand smoke, watching colleagues die and falling ill themselves.

“Sixteen years ago the state of New Jersey let us go up in smoke,” said Lamont White, a croupier at Borgata Casino. “We are not numbers; We are the people.”

The casino industry opposes the measure, saying it will cost jobs and incomes amid an uneven recovery from the coronavirus pandemic as only two casinos surpassed the level of profitability they enjoyed before the start of the pandemic.

Nicole Vitola, another Borgata dealer, said it was infuriating to see friends falling ill in workplaces that lacked the same health protections enjoyed by other industries.

“It’s been 16 years of cancer diagnoses, 16 years of watching our dear colleagues die,” she said. “We keep hearing, ‘Now is not the time.’ When will it be the right time to care about us?

The Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group for Atlantic City’s nine casinos, recently commissioned a report predicting widespread job losses and revenue declines if smoking were banned in Atlantic City.

“Atlantic City has yet to experience growth from pre-pandemic levels,” association president Joe Lupo said. “Employment in our casinos is at a 20-year low, with less than 50% of the workforce since 2003. Atlantic City attendance is at a 20-year low, while prices gasoline and tolls go up.

“And land-based casino revenues remain down nearly 50% from our 2006 peak,” he added. “Adding a smoking ban could have a devastating effect on the community and the state.”

Casino employees vehemently dispute the findings of this report and say it fails to take into account a likely improvement in trading conditions in the years following the passage of a smoking ban, as players become accustomed to a smoke-free environment.

In a letter sent Monday to State Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari, Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the casino workers’ union Unite Here, urged lawmakers not to pass a smoking ban.

“While we want to make sure our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union and across the state, as well as lost tax revenue. and less money for senior programs,” he wrote.

Earlier this month, state gaming regulators released numbers showing Atlantic City casinos collectively exceeded the gross operating profit levels they enjoyed before the pandemic hit in 2020.

But virtually all of this improvement has come from the two newest casinos on the market, Hard Rock and Ocean, with the other seven remaining unchanged since the start of the pandemic.

The bill has yet to have a hearing in the state legislature, though it continues to garner support from lawmakers in both parties. It has 28 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 15 in the Senate, including the majority of health committees in both houses.

“The whole world has figured out how to eat out and smoke out,” said Rep. Claire Swift, a Republican. “The nine casinos can figure it out.”

“We know this bill would pass today with flying colors if introduced,” said Pete Naccarelli, a Borgata dealer. “Soon I’ll be grateful because I’ll be working in a smoke-free environment like everyone else in the state of New Jersey.”

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