Former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (R) agrees with anti-smoking advocates that casinos should be free of harmful air.
Guardian, the lone Republican who has held the title of Atlantic City mayor since 1990, served only a single term after losing reelection in 2017. Guardian became a state lawmaker by way of the General Assembly’s 2nd District last month, after winning the state seat in November.
Less than a month into his new role, Guardian is supporting legislative efforts to prohibit indoor casino smoking in Atlantic City. Guardian, along with Assemblywoman Claire Swift, both of whom are Republicans representing Atlantic County, is cosponsoring a casino smoking ban.
The bill — A2151 — was introduced on February 7 by Assemblymembers William Moen (D-Camden), Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester), and Herb Conaway (D-Burlington). The legislation is a clone of Senate Bill 264.
The bills seek to end the exemption afforded to Atlantic City casinos under the state’s 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act. The law prohibits indoor smoking in most public places, but allows casinos to designate up to 25 percent of their gaming space for smoking.
Current Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. (D) has not publicly expressed a concrete position on the smoking issue.
Republican Support Growing
Lawmakers in Trenton are continuing to lend their backing to anti-smoking casino legislation. It started as a Democratic-led effort, but Republicans continue to sign on.
Similar to A2151 in the Assembly, S264 in the Senate was authored and introduced by Democrats. Senators Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) have also fielded GOP support since introducing the measure in mid-January.
We are doing everything we can to go bipartisan for our casino workers,” Swift explained.
Casino workers are helping fuel the change of opinion regarding gaming floors continuing to permit up to 25 percent of their space for indoor smoking. CEASE — “Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects” — has been at the forefront of the campaign. Some casino dealers aligned with CEASE say they cringe when a patron smoking a cigarette sits down at their table game.
“We’re sick and tired of the smoke,” Pete Naccarelli, CEASE spokesperson, said to Casino.org.
Casinos Maintain Opposition
The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), the lobbying group that represents the gaming interests in Trenton, continues to oppose legislative efforts to prevent gamblers from smoking indoors.
Gross gaming revenue for Atlantic City’s nine casinos continues to remain below pre-pandemic numbers. Atlantic City brick-and-mortar casino win totaled $2.55 billion last year. That is 4.9% below the industry’s 2019 land-based total of $2.68 billion.
Joe Lupo, Hard Rock Atlantic City and CANJ president, says smoke-free casinos in New Jersey would put the resorts at a major competitive disadvantage from casinos in nearby Philadelphia. Pennsylvania casinos can designate up to 50% of their gaming floor for smoking.
New Jersey recently afforded Atlantic City casinos substantial tax savings by eliminating their iGaming and mobile sports betting revenue from their annual collective property tax assessments. The legislative effort was led by former state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who claimed as many as four of the nine casinos would be at risk of closing without such tax breaks.
Sweeney did not specify which four casinos were in danger of folding, nor provide any insight for the claim prior to his departure from government last month. Sweeney was shockingly upset in the 2021 election by Nicholas Scutari, a Republican truck driver with no political experience.
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