The top resort executive in Atlantic City has conceded publicly that the days of indoor smoking being allowed on the nine gaming floors are numbered.
Mark Giannantonio has been the chief executive of Resorts Casino Hotel, the oldest casino in Atlantic City, for more than a decade. But he only became president of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) this past summer.
CANJ is the collective voice of the nine casinos in New Jersey’s Trenton capital. The lobbying organization advocates for legislation, policies, and initiatives that support the ongoing revitalization of Atlantic City.
Eliminating indoor casino smoking, Giannantonio believes, would not currently adhere to CANJ’s mission. But the longtime Atlantic City boss admits there will come a day when forcing smokers outside to light up will make sense.
There is a time for this, at some point,” Giannantonio acknowledged to The New York Times when reached for comment about pending state legislation that would prohibit indoor casino smoking. “It’s just not the right time.”
Advocates pushing the identical pieces of legislation in Trenton — Assembly Bill 2151 and Senate Bill 264 — argue casino workers can’t afford to wait any longer, as they jeopardize their health each shift.
Dems Deny Delay
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) temporarily suspended indoor casino smoking in Atlantic City during the COVID-19 pandemic. But smoking resumed when the governor’s emergency health order was lifted ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend in 2021.
A grassroots coalition of table game dealers and other player-facing casino workers established an advocacy group called “Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE)” that same month. CEASE’s goal is to convince state lawmakers to close the casino smoking loophole that was created in 2006. That’s when New Jersey passed its clean indoor air act that prohibited smoking in most public places and workspaces.
CEASE has already won over the majority support needed in the state legislature to send the anti-smoking bills to Murphy’s desk. Murphy has said in the past that he would sign legislation that ends casino smoking.
Though each bill has enough cosponsors to pass their respective chamber, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Senate have not yet considered either statute on their chamber floor. It’s unclear why the bills haven’t moved out of committee.
New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari earlier this month refuted reports suggesting that Democratic leaders have stalled the anti-casino smoking bills until the state’s 2023 election, when all 80 Assembly and 40 Senate seats are on the ballot.
Public Outcry Mounting
CANJ in its smoking advocacy defense cited its own commissioned study. That report found eliminating casino smoking at this juncture would hurt gaming revenue by as much as 25% and result in considerable resort-wide layoffs. But an independent study conducted by Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming released in June found that outlawing tobacco smoke on a casino floor isn’t detrimental to gaming revenue.
The debate has since gained national attention, as made evident by the recent NYT piece. New Jersey State Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) is one of the outspoken Democratic lawmakers in Trenton urging action on the proposed smoking bans.
“There are people who are getting sick. Some are dying. It’s really prehistoric and immoral,” Vitale concluded.
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