Source: Associated Press
A bill to end smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos that appeared headed for its first vote Thursday was delayed yet again when Democratic lawmakers said they did not have enough votes to advance it.
They also said they would listen to alternatives proposed by the casino industry including enclosed smoking rooms in which no employee would be forced to work.
That infuriated over 100 casino workers who packed a hearing room in the state Capitol, convinced that after nearly three years, their state representatives were ready to start the smoking ban on its way to approval.
“It’s incredible that we’re here begging again to have the same thing everyone else has,” said Lamont White, a dealer at the Borgata and a leader of the drive to end smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, chairman of the Senate health committee, said the measure was one vote short of the number required to move it forward Thursday.
Vitale said he favors a vote on the bill as originally written, which would ban smoking in the casinos, which is currently allowed on 25% of the casino floor. But others, including Sen. Fred Madden, said some lawmakers want to hear more from the casino industry, which he said has suggested an 18-month phase-in of a smoking ban to enable them to set up enclosed smoking rooms and additional air treatment processes.
Casino Association of New Jersey president, Mark Giannantonio said Thursday’s delay proves that “for the first time, people are beginning to realize that the bill, as drafted, will have a significant adverse effect on Atlantic City’s economy.”
A group representing dealers called the smoking rooms proposal “an absurd idea” that every legislator should reject. Support for a casino smoking ban is widespread among New Jersey lawmakers, with a bipartisan majority in both chambers, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly said he will sign it if passed.
The bill would close a loophole in the state’s 2006 indoor smoking law. That measure was written specifically to exempt casinos from bans on smoking indoors. Currently, smoking is permitted on 25% of a casino floor in Atlantic City.
The casino industry opposes a smoking ban, saying it would lose customers and revenue if smoking were banned while still being allowed in casinos in nearby states.
The issue is among the most divisive in Atlantic City, where even though casino revenue matched its all time high of $5.2 billion last year, only half that amount was won from in-person gamblers. The other half was won online and must be shared with third parties including tech platforms and sports books.
Sen. Joseph Vitale apologized to workers who made the 180-mile round trip from Atlantic City, promising another vote on the bill “sooner rather than later.”