The Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce has interjected its opinion into the casino smoking debate in New Jersey.
Citing a potential loss of jobs and business at the nine casinos in Atlantic City, the pro-business group expressed its position that now is not the time for state lawmakers to end the clean indoor air loophole afforded to the industry.
“As our community struggles to rebuild and recover [from COVID-19], our priority must be to support and maintain a favorable economic environment for local businesses and employees. We must be focused on maintaining stability in the market, preserving and creating jobs, and supporting the local community during these uncertain times,” the chamber’s statement reads.
To that end, recent efforts to impose a permanent smoking ban on Atlantic City casinos should be halted. A smoking ban would have a negative impact on the casino industry, resulting in significant job losses and decline in revenues, which in turn would hurt local businesses and vendors that rely on the industry for their economic livelihood,” the release added.
Two identical pieces of legislation — S264/A2151 — have been introduced in Trenton to ban casino smoking in Atlantic City. But the bills haven’t reached either chamber floor for a vote.
All nine casinos are members of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce.
Industry Study Suggests Significant Impact
The chamber opposing legislative efforts to place casinos under the regulatory scope of the 2006 New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act likely came as a result of a damning study on the impact such a ban would have.
Research firm Spectrum Gaming concluded through a market review that extinguishing tobacco smoke on Atlantic City casino floors would result in as many as 2,500 job losses. The analysis additionally found that gross gaming revenue would drop around 11 percent in the first full year following such an enactment.
“We recognize the concerns of casino employees who support a smoking ban. But we also must keep in mind that thousands of employees and their families will be impacted by lost jobs if a ban is passed,” the chamber said.
Critics of the study point to the fact that the Spectrum analysis was funded by the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), the lobbying group of the nine casinos. CANJ argues a smoking ban would put Atlantic City in a detrimental position to compete with nearby casinos in Philadelphia, where indoor smoking is permitted in designated gaming sections.
Worker Op-Ed Voices Urgency
Nicole Vitola has been at the forefront of the Atlantic City casino smoking debate by championing the advocacy “Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects” (CEASE). Vitola is a table games dealer at Borgata. She says her job requires her to gamble with her own personal health.
Writing an op-ed for New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, Vitola says workplace smoke has always bothered her. But she became an advocate for eliminating the casino smoking loophole after working in such an environment while pregnant.
I’ll never forget working in a high roller room with six VIPs smoking cigars and I had to just stand there and deal. It was awful. But I did my job, anxiously wondering what hand was being dealt to my unborn child inside of me,” Vitola said.
Vitola says it isn’t only lawmakers who possess the power to value worker heath over the casinos’ bottom lines.
“Legislative action is urgent, but the casinos themselves are not off the hook. They have the power to end smoking today if they really care about us,” Vitola concluded.
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