Atlantic City casinos were handed $55 million in property tax savings yesterday by the New Jersey Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy (D). Now, anti-casino smoking advocates say it’s time for the state to end the clean indoor air loophole that has endangered the wellbeing of gaming floor workers for more than 15 years.
Murphy signed S4007 late last night. The bill amends the casinos’ payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) to exclude iGaming and online sports betting revenue from their annual property tax bill.
A group called CEASE — Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects — has become increasingly frustrated with state politicians and Murphy tending to tax breaks for the nine casinos instead of focusing on workers’ health. With the PILOT bill finished, the advocacy is calling on Trenton to concentrate on anti-smoking legislation.
Casinos may be breathing a sigh of relief today, but we’re still breathing secondhand smoke that jeopardizes our health,” a CEASE statement declared.
“We are sick and tired of the smoke, and we won’t get a break from the smoke during the holidays — we’ll be in the casinos, working to support our families. We cannot wait any longer for legislators to eliminate the loophole,” the release asserted.
CEASE is urging the legislature to quickly pass S1878/A4541 — two identical pieces of legislation that would end the casino exemption from the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act, which went into effect in 2006.
Both bills would end the permittance of indoor smoking at casinos and simulcasting facilities. Under the state’s clean air law, casinos and parimutuel venues can designate up to 20 percent of their gaming floor space for smoking.
Opponents of ending the casino smoking loophole include state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), a staunch supporter of the Atlantic City gaming industry during his more than decades in office. Sweeney, who is a lame duck following his shocking November upset to a little-known truck driver who ran on the Republican ticket in the Senate district, says ending casino smoking will hurt the industry.
“It’s an industry that’s struggling quite a bit. The argument before was that you’re going to chase away a percentage of their business, and nobody’s been able to disburse that thought process,” Sweeney said in May.
CEASE has. The group points to the fact that Atlantic City casinos reported strong gaming revenue numbers during the smoking stoppage amid the pandemic in 2020. The casinos were profitable in both 2020 and this year, and have now been given substantial savings on their 2022-2026 property taxes.
Murphy Again Expresses Support
The governor has said in the past that he would sign a bill that makes casinos smoke-free indoors should it come to his desk. Murphy doubled down on that stance this week during a press conference.
CEASE, as well as the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), say Murphy should be doing more to urge lawmakers to send him such legislation. The ANR’s Breathe Easy with Smoke-Free Casinos group argues the governor should be as proactive with banning casino smoking as he has been with pushing the PILOT tax breaks.
“[Murphy] can and must do more,” the ANR declared.
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