Hundreds of Atlantic City casino workers rallied yesterday in support of New Jersey lawmakers ending a 16-year loophole that has allowed indoor smoking at the nine gaming properties.
“Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE)” claims more than 250 gaming workers employed by the Atlantic City casinos showed up to call on state leaders to make the gaming spaces smoke-free. New Jersey’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act provided an allowance that casinos can designate up to 25% of their gaming floors for indoor tobacco smoking.
In recognition of the 16-year anniversary of the bill that banned indoor smoking in nearly all other indoor public places, CEASE sought to bring awareness that casino employees continue to be subjected to working in businesses where known carcinogens freely permeate the air.
It’s been 16 years of cancer diagnoses, 16 years of respiratory illnesses, 16 years of pregnant women having to deal at smoking tables worrying about what effect it was having on their unborn children, and 16 years of watching our beloved coworkers die,” said Borgata table game dealer Nicole Vitola. “When is it going to be the right time for someone to care about our health?”
Two pieces of legislation each seeking to end indoor casino smoking in Atlantic City have been introduced to the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly.
The statutes would end indoor casino smoking and treat gaming venues like nearly every other public business in the state. Forty-four lawmakers are now sponsoring the measures. Governor Phil Murphy (D) says he would sign a casino smoking ban bill.
“The time for delay is over. We cannot keep breathing this poison at work,” said Lamont White, the CEASE co-founder who also works at the Borgata as a dealer.
Substantial opposition is blamed for holding up the statutes. Assembly Bill 2151 and Senate Bill 264 have yet to even receive a committee vote.
A2151 was introduced to the lower chamber in early February. The bill continues to reside with the Assembly Health Committee. S264 was introduced in January but has since stalled in the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee.
Industry Maintains Opposition
The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) claims a smoking ban would put the nine Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with nearby Philadelphia casinos where indoor smoking is also currently permitted. CANJ additionally argues that the casinos are trying to recover from the pandemic, and with New York moving to legalize casinos in New York City, now is a most inopportune time to consider extinguishing indoor casino smoking.
The workers at yesterday’s rally argue that their health should trump those concerns. But Bob McDevitt, president of the Unite Here Local 54 gaming workers union, has also taken CANJ’s side.
While we want to ensure that our members work in a safe work environment, banning smoking in New Jersey casinos would mean lost jobs for our union and throughout the state, and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs,” McDevitt said this week.
As of February, the nine Atlantic City casinos collectively employed 21,842 workers. That’s up 616 positions from February 2021.
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