As long as Steve Sweeney remained as the New Jersey Senate President The Atlantic City Casinos had nothing to worry about relative to losing their special exemption; which currently permits smoking in portions of the casinos.
Sweeney used his political power and simply refused to post any smoking ban legislation.
However, Edward Durr scored the biggest electoral upset in New Jersey state history (defeating Sweeney) and the drumbeat to remove the special exception immediately began in January 2022.
There’s an old adage in casino gaming that players love a drink in one hand and a cigarette or cigar in the other while they play.
The casino industry genuinely believes that a permanent ban on smoking will cost substantial revenue and result in the loss of jobs. A recent study commissioned by the industry concluded that up to 2,500 jobs could be lost if the casino smoking ban is implemented.
Advocates who support a smoking ban dispute this finding. They concede that there may be a temporary downturn, but that it would be short-lived.
Today, The Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce has come out forcefully in opposition to a full smoking ban in the Atlantic City casinos.
Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, issued the following statement on behalf of the organization:
As we mark two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greater Atlantic City region continues to feel the adverse economic impact from this unprecedented health crisis. As our community struggles to rebuild and recover, 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 is also making the point that a smoking ban for Atlantic City will place them at a significant disadvantage with neighboring jurisdictions that allow smoking.
“A permanent smoking ban would put Atlantic City at a competitive disadvantage with casinos in Pennsylvania and Connecticut where smoking is permitted...Atlantic City deserves a level playing field. By imposing a smoking ban, we are simply driving visitors, businesses, and jobs away from our region to neighboring states," Chait argued.
If the permanent casino smoking ban legislation can pass through the Senate and Assembly committee process and gets posted by the Senate president and the assembly speaker, it appears to have the votes to pass both chambers. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has previously stated that he will sign the legislation into law.
New Jersey Senators Vince Polistina, R-2, and Michael Testa, R-1 are both in favor of a permanent smoking ban for the Atlantic City casinos.
Dr. Bob Zlotnick, president, and chief executive officer of Atlantic Prevention Resources said, last week on-air during a live interview, that 87% of New Jerseyans do not smoke.
This is the first time since the passage of the New Jersey clean air act, that a permanent smoking ban in the Atlantic City casinos appears to be a very real possibility.
From Cynthia Hallett, President & CEO - The American Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) Foundation:
The Chamber is spewing more of the same scare tactics that are going over like a lead balloon with legislators in Trenton, especially considering that every state legislator representing Atlantic City supports this bill. If their members are concerned about in-person visitation, they should talk to the casino operators about the incessant promotion of online gambling that cannibalizes Atlantic City’s land-based business. Casinos and their allies have also yet to lay out how they plan to protect their workers from secondhand smoke. Their health deserves more than lip service.
Dr. Bob Zlotnick, President and Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Prevention Resources also reached out following the publishing of this article.
Zlotnick advised that his organization is ending Their membership with the greater Atlantic City chamber of commerce because of their public position on this issue.
Zlotnick issued the following public statement:
We highly value our membership in the Greater A.C. Chamber, but as a public health agency we cannot continue to be members of an organization that places financial interests above health. We believe that the Chamber’s decision was significantly impacted by the recently released Spectrum Gaming Report. This report was paid for by the casino industry and is not a scientific study of this complex situation. As a member of the local community, we would stand to be impacted by any loss in local business, but we cannot in good conscience put a price tag on the health of our families and neighbors.
“APR enjoyed its relationship with the Chamber and regrets this decision,” said Zlotnick
SOURCES: Michael Chait, President - Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce; along with numerous interviews that we have conducted with Senator Vince Polistina, Senator and Michael Testa, Senator Steve Sweeney, Dr. Bob Zlotnick.