The Atlantic City casino unions that represent the roughly 22,000 workers employed by the nine resorts have differing opinions when it comes to indoor smoking.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) first ventured into the Atlantic City gaming industry in 2007 after it unionized table game dealers at the Tropicana. Today, the UAW represents approximately 1,200 table workers at three casinos — Tropicana, Caesars, and Bally’s.
In a statement this week, the UAW Region 9 in Cherry Hill, N.J., called on state lawmakers to pass legislation banning indoor casino smoke.
Our members include dealers who sit inches away from patrons who blow smoke directly into their face for eight hours a day, every single day,” said UAW Regional Director Jeffrey Binz. “It is simply unacceptable knowing what we know about the dangers of secondhand smoke.”
Legislative efforts are ongoing to terminate the clean indoor air loophole that has been afforded to Atlantic City casinos since the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act was passed in 2006. But the gaming industry heavily opposes a smoking ban on claims that it would put the casinos at a competitive disadvantage with gaming venues in nearby Pennsylvania.
Unite Here Local 54 is the larger of the two Atlantic City casino unions in town. Local 54 President Bob McDevitt, whose union counts more than 10,000 casino workers as members, believes indoor smoking should continue.
McDevitt points to research commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) that concluded a smoking ban would hurt visitation and negatively impact annual gaming revenue. That, McDevitt and the CANJ contend, would result in job losses.
The UAW says a scarier outcome is the ongoing health consequences casino smoking is dealing its members.
“We have heard the financial scare tactics laid out by the casinos. But nothing is more frightening than the numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with regard to secondhand smoke,” Binz continued. “We know that the casinos will thrive without indoor smoke causing a slow death to the employees.
“We know this because we have seen casinos in states across the country thrive while implementing accommodations to protect their workers,” the UAW regional leader concluded.
Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151 are identical pieces of legislation seeking to end casino smoking in Atlantic City. But while the measures have considerable bipartisan support — 28 assemblypersons and 15 senators sponsoring the statutes — both have idled in their respective chambers since being introduced.
The Senate anti-smoking bill was introduced in January. It has since sat with the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee. The Assembly anti-smoking bill was introduced in February. It has since sat with the Assembly Health Committee.
Committee members are said to be dragging their feet on the measures to determine the overall health of the casino industry in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Land-based gaming revenue in the first three months of 2022 is up 2.6% from 2019. But inflation is easily offsetting the small gain, and CANJ President Joe Lupo maintains that “now is not the time to enact a smoking ban.”
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