Atlantic City casino workers supportive of ending indoor smoking at the nine gaming resorts are hoping a leadership change at the Casino Association of New Jersey is in their favor.
Resorts Casino Hotel CEO Mark Giannantonio this week was named president of the CANJ. The association is the lobbying group representing the interests of the Atlantic City casinos in the New Jersey Trenton capital.
Giannantonio replaced outgoing Hard Rock Atlantic City CEO Joe Lupo in the role. Lupo spoke out in defense of casinos being allowed to permit indoor smoking on up to 25% of their gaming space. But resort workers aligned with “Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE),” the nonprofit leading the anti-casino smoking fight in Atlantic City, hope Giannantonio might be more receptive to their regulatory campaign.
It’s been stunning to see the lengths to which CANJ has gone in disregarding our health, even when the facts don’t support claims about the economic consequences,” a CEASE letter addressed to Giannantonio this week declared.
“We want Atlantic City casinos to thrive. We also want to be around for our kids and grandkids for many more years. We fear that continuing to work in a smoke-filled environment will jeopardize that,” the CEASE letter, signed by the organization’s three co-founders Nicole Vitola, Pete Naccarelli, and Lamont White, continued.
Industry Claims Rejected
The nine casinos say a complete smoking ban on their gaming floors would put the properties at a competitive disadvantage with casinos in nearby Philadelphia where smoking is permitted in certain areas. The Atlantic City gaming industry argues that it’s already difficult to attract gamblers to the New Jersey shore outside of the summer months, and stripping a key element of their operations — indoor smoking — would only make matters worse.
The CANJ commissioned a study on what sort of consequences a smoke-free mandate would have on business. Spectrum Gaming Group concluded that an indoor smoking ban would lead to an 11% reduction in annual gross gaming revenue in the first 12 months after implementation. That, the review reasoned, would lead to as many as 2,500 jobs being cut.
The casinos, as well as the gaming union that represents about 10,000 resort workers, reason that the study provides factual data as to why a smoking ban should not be currently considered in Trenton. For the state to force the casinos to go fully smoke-free, the New Jersey Legislature would need to amend its Smoke-Free Air Act it passed in 2006 that includes a provision allowing casino smoking.
CEASE says the Spectrum study, which was paid for by the Atlantic City casino industry, reached unjustified conclusions to only satisfy its client.
“A truly independent study conducted by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming released in June found that COVID-19 has changed customer behavior and that smoke-free casinos have actually performed better financially than their smoking counterparts,” the CEASE letter stated. The C3 review was not commissioned by CEASE.
Call to Action
Lupo sought to discredit the CEASE campaign. During his address before the Public Relations Council of Greater Atlantic City in February, Lupo said that a smattering of anti-smoking casino workers petitioning along the Boardwalk might not be fully representative of the gaming labor force as a whole.
I don’t believe that 30 people walking down the Boardwalk represents the 21,000 employees that are employed in the casinos,” Lupo said of an earlier CEASE event.
CEASE claims to now have “thousands of casino dealers” and other resort workers supporting its smoke-free mission. The group would greatly like to add Giannantonio to its list of supporters.
“As you begin your tenure leading CANJ, we urge you to reject business as usual and instead take this opportunity to stand up for what is right,” the letter concluded.
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