Legislation to ban smoking in casinos reintroduced

By Eric Conklin, The Press of Atlantic City

January 12- A group of state senators has reintroduced a bill to permanently make Atlantic City’s casinos smoke-free.

The new bill, S264, was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Health Committee.

The measure is backed by six senators, including state Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, the only Republican named as a sponsor.

A companion bill in the Assembly is expected to be prepared and introduced soon.

“We applaud this bipartisan group of legislators from across New Jersey who understand that worker health must be a priority,” Cynthia Hallett, president and CEO of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said in a statement Wednesday. “Atlantic City casino workers made the most of the lame-duck session to grow legislative support for closing the casino smoking loophole that puts their health at risk.”

Officials with the Casino Association of New Jersey, which represents the city’s casinos, have said forcing smokers outside could turn away potential customers.

Polistina said Wednesday the legislation could come up for a vote within the next month or two.

The senator is backing the proposal because he feels Atlantic City’s casinos have become profitable enough to act on ending the provision in place since 2006, which limits smoking to 25% of a casino floor.

“I think now’s the time that we prioritize the workers’ health over there,” Polistina said.

Casino smoking was banned temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that ban was lifted last summer, and cigars and cigarettes began reappearing on gaming floors.

Since last year, politicians have tried making that permanent.

In December, hundreds of casino employees marched on Trenton, calling for legislators to move the bill. Most continue pressing lawmakers to act to protect their health since casino workers are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than other types of workers.

Nicole Vitola, a dealer at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and co-leader of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE), said Wednesday their fight will continue as long as smoking is allowed in casinos.

“Every day we go to work, we risk our health getting worse and worse,” Vitola said in a statement. “Especially during yet another wave of COVID cases in our state, this is unacceptable. It’s time to get this bill passed as soon as possible, so that we no longer have to choose between our health and a paycheck.”

A bill stopping casino smokers would likely become law since Gov. Phil Murphy has previously said he would sign one if it made it to his desk. In December, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey Legislature to forbid the act, but it never made it to the governor.

Posted on 01/13/2022 in Smoke-free Environments