New Jersey lawmakers listened to testimony from hundreds of card dealers, workers, bartenders, and customers who spoke in favor of banning smoking from casinos in Atlantic City on Monday. They will soon vote on a bill that would give casino workers and customers a clean, smoke-free environment if passed.
Monday’s hearing did not include a vote on Sen. Shirley Turner’s (D) bill, S-264. A version of the bi-partisian bill has been submitted every legislative session since 2006 by Turner. That was the year New Jersey banned smoking in public places, except — on the insistence of the casino industry — Atlantic City casinos.
How powerful is the casino industry? Despite the mounds of evidence of the dangers associated from working in an environment that allows cigarette smoking, this is the first time her bill was given a hearing.
But momentum has shifted. One of the Republican lawmakers noted at the hearing that the bill has 21 supporters — the exact number needed to vote yes in order for it to pass.
Both sides heard
On Monday, Lawmakers listened to workers tell them of non-smoking colleagues dying of lung cancer in their 40s and 50s, and of enduring shift after shift swimming through the toxic smoke of the addicted, according to the New Jersey News Monitor.
But there were plenty of people on the side of the casinos, lung cancer, and heart disease, including Christina Renna, president of the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce, who claimed as long as neighboring Pennsylvania allows smoking, casinos in New Jersey must follow or the entire tourism industry will suffer.
“The pandemic altered consumer expectations and consumer behavior in virtually every industry, including retail, entertainment, lodging, dining and casino gaming. One of those changes (is) in attitudes towards smoking in casinos,” the report’s three authors wrote.
Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue,” it read. “In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.”
There’s also this: According to a paper published in the National Library of Medicine, working in a casino that allows smoking is simply deadly. The report, which focussed on Pennsylvania casinos, estimated that six out of 10,000 workers die annually from lung cancer and heart disease because they were exposed to second-hand smoke.
That’s “five-fold the death rate from Pennsylvania mining disasters,” according to the report’s author.
Pennsylvania to follow?
Like New Jersey, Pennsylvania lawmakers exempted casinos from having to follow its Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008. This law prohibits smoking in a workplace, as well as most public places, but customers are allowed to suck cigarettes down in all but one Pennsylvania casino.
The Protecting Workers from Secondhand Smoke Act would close that loophole. It’s one of several bills that have been submitted over the last decade that would ban smoking in casinos. They’ve gone nowhere, but this year’s co-sponsor, Rep. Dan Frankel, hopes things will change, he told a local TV station.
Of its 14 casinos located in Pennsylvania, only Parx doesn’t allow smoking. Smoking was briefly banned at all casinos during the COVID-19 restrictions. After the ban was lifted, the other casinos quickly put out the ashtrays. But according to the aforementioned report, Parx has not experienced any financial pain from protecting its workers from secondhand smoke. In fact, it’s the best performing casino in Pennsylvania.
If passed, smoking could be banned in Pennsylvania casinos by the end off the year.