Legislators Consider Ending Smoking Exemption in Atlantic City Casinos

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For almost twenty years, Atlantic City casinos have enjoyed a special status under the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act. This law, unlike the general prohibition on smoking in public spaces throughout New Jersey, has allowed casinos to designate up to a quarter of their gaming floors for indoor smoking.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a temporary halt to this practice, but once the health crisis began to subside, smoking indoors returned. This is in contrast to other states, where temporary bans on smoking led to permanent changes.

Signs of Legislative Change in New Jersey

However, it seems that things may be changing in New Jersey. A new legislative effort, Senate Bill 264 (SB 264), seeks to remove the smoking loophole that benefits casinos and simulcasting facilities. The bill, sponsored by Joseph Vitale and Shirley Turner and supported by around two dozen other lawmakers, represents a significant bipartisan effort to end this exception.

Recently, the bill has seen increased attention and support, particularly after being discussed by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. With the legislative session nearing its January deadline, advocates of SB 264 are pushing for rapid advancement.

Significant Opposition Remains

Despite this momentum, the proposed smoking ban faces notable opposition. Some argue that banning smoking in casinos could have adverse economic impacts, potentially leading to lower revenues and job losses. Unite Here, a prominent group, has even suggested that a smoking ban could reduce the gross gaming revenues of Atlantic City's casinos.

On the other hand, supporters of the ban disagree with these dire predictions. They point to the temporary pandemic-related smoking ban, which did not seem to harm the casino industry significantly. Moreover, groups like Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) are vocal in their support for the ban, highlighting concerns about the health impacts of indoor smoking on casino workers.

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