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Can You Smoke in Atlantic City Casinos? 2024 Update
Whether you are a smoker or not, you probably have an opinion on if smoking should be allowed in casinos. For smokers, it’s usually a matter of convenience, so they don’t have to leave their table, slot, or conversation to go outside for a smoke. Meanwhile, those who don’t smoke can find secondhand smoke to be an annoyance or even seriously hazardous to their health.
Smoking on the casino floor is especially challenging for many of Atlantic City’s 20,000 casino employees, such as dealers, who typically spend hours on the casino floor each day and can’t simply walk away from the smoke.
Smoking in Atlantic City casinos could be coming to an end soon, but with major players on either side, we will have to wait and see if anything changes. For now, read on to find out the latest on smoking in AC’s nine casinos and some key points on the issue.
Is Smoking Allowed in Atlantic City Casinos?
Although the 2006 New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act banned smoking in public places, an exemption was made for Atlantic City casinos, whereby up to 25% of the casino’s gaming floor space could be designated as smoking areas. This exemption is still in place today.
In February 2023, lawmakers discussed a plan to amend the bill to remove the casino exemption and enact a complete smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos. Although the meeting was simply a discussion and not a vote, the debate gathered the attention and support of certain lawmakers and brought wider public attention to the issue.
This wouldn’t be the first time an amendment was made to the Atlantic City smoking ban, with an additional restriction being made in 2019 to restrict smoking in passenger drop-off and pick-up areas of New Jersey airports.
Why is Smoking Allowed in Casinos?
Certain exemptions were made in the 2006 New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act to allow businesses with a high percentage of smoking patrons, such as cigar lounges and casinos, to continue to allow smoking on the premises. Although it is a controversial issue for many reasons, lawmakers at the time saw fit to allow a portion of the gaming space in AC’s casinos to be designated as smoking areas, as the state and Atlantic City depend heavily on the economic viability of AC casinos.
Senator Richard Codey was acting governor when the New Jersey public smoking ban was signed into law. Codey claimed that to get the law passed, he essentially had to agree to the casino smoking exemption, but now he believes it’s time for a complete ban.
Some Locals Want to Keep Smoking in Casinos
One Atlantic City resident, James Henry, is worried about how lost tax revenues from a casino smoking ban could affect regular taxpayers such as himself.
Henry also expressed that neither he nor his family couldn’t afford an increase in property taxes that a loss of casino revenue would bring about and urged lawmakers to keep the exemption in place.
Although far from the majority, some casino workers also fear that a decline in casino revenue from a smoking ban could put their jobs in danger, a sentiment echoed by former casino workers union boss Bob McDevitt of Local 54 Unite Here.
Why Do the Casinos Themselves Permit Smoking?
As the choice to allow smoking on up to 25% of the casino floor ultimately rests with the casino itself, some may be left wondering why smoking is allowed by the casino itself. The answer, as before, comes down to money.
With the financial blow the industry took during the COVID pandemic, The Casino Association of New Jersey claims a policy change could lead to layoffs and harm the local economy. In addition, the economic challenges AC casinos would face should they ban smoking would be further damaging if they were the only casino on the block that doesn’t allow smokers, as patrons would simply go elsewhere.
What Do the Ban Proponents Have to Say?
Those who are against smoking in Atlantic City casinos have various well-justified reasons to support a full ban. The main proponents of removing the casino exemption from the Smoke-Free Air Act are casino staff, who routinely spend hours on the gaming floor in smoky environments, breathing secondhand smoke.
A considerable number of casino employees have testified before state Assembly committees in favor of an amendment to the exemption allowing smoking on the casino floor.
Brady, who has stage 2 breast cancer and has been dealing at Atlantic City casinos for over 35 years, is just one of a number of casino employees with a severely increased risk to secondhand smoke, such as those with cancer or respiratory issues.
According to some staff, dealers are discouraged and even forbidden from waving away smoke, as it could embarrass the patron who’s smoking.
What Do the Lawmakers Think?
There is much support for an Atlantic City casino smoking ban in both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, and with the increased publicity around the discussion on February 13th, 2023, support from lawmakers hasn’t been more pronounced.
While no official vote has taken place on the matter, it does seem as though, for the moment at least, there are more supporters for a complete ban on smoking inside casinos than those wishing to keep the exemption in place.
In addition, NJ Governor Phil Murphy has stated that should legislation arrive at his desk banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos, he will sign it into law.
Are Any Atlantic City Casinos Smoke Free?
There are currently no non-smoking casinos in Atlantic City, with each of the nine casinos using up pretty much all of their 25% gaming floor smoking designation.
Interestingly, back in 2013, Revel Casino was the only smoke-free Atlantic City casino. However, after filing for bankruptcy, the casino listed potential reasons for economic failure, including its commitment to non-smoking. The casino later took advantage of the smoking exemption but still went bankrupt.
Can I Smoke in a Casino Hotel Room?
The law doesn’t affect a hotel’s right to designate smoking and non-smoking hotel rooms, as they are private spaces. Not all hotel smoking policies are created equal, however. For example, Harrah’s Atlantic City smoking policy is 100% smoke-free for all of its rooms, although Harrah’s smoking policy does make room for dedicated smoking areas throughout the hotel. Other casinos are different; for instance, smoking at Bally’s Atlantic City is permitted in some designated rooms.
What is NJ S264?
NJ S264 is a bill to eliminate the smoking ban exemption currently enjoyed by casinos and simulcasting facilities in New Jersey, permitting up to 25% of the casino floor in Atlantic City’s gambling hotspots to be smoker-friendly.
The bill is currently in Committee as of 01/11/2022 and has 26 out of a possible 40 sponsors in the State Senate’s Upper Chamber. One of three companion bills in the Assembly, A2151, has 55 out of 80 sponsors.
The bill was last mentioned in the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Hearing on 02/13/2023.
Will the Exemption Go Up in Smoke?
So, as of the time of writing, the answer to the question “can you smoke in Atlantic City casinos” is a resounding yes.
Although the only official meetings on the matter have just been talks and not a decisive vote, it seems that lawmakers are leaning towards the side of banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos. One thing is certain, though: the issue has caught public attention, and any decision made will come with criticism from one side or the other.
That said, Senate President Nick Scutari appears poised to bring S264 for a full floor vote in the State Senate after the General Election in November. This vote would mark the first full floor vote in either chamber since the bill’s unanimous passing in 2007. Additionally, as the vote would take place in a lame-duck session after November’s General election and before the beginning of the new Congress, lawmakers may be motivated to get things finished.
With sponsorship from 26 out of 40 state senators, S264 looks to be set to cruise through the Upper Chamber. That said, as S264 will be introduced for a vote in the state senate, the General Assembly, which has 57 of 80 Assembly members in favor of a ban, must also pass a companion bill to get S264 on Governor Phil Murphy’s desk. Should that happen, Murphy has repeatedly said he wouldn’t hesitate to sign the bill into law.
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Will smoking be banned in Atlantic City casinos?
There are ongoing talks with lawmakers about the possibility of removing the public smoking ban exemption in the 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act casinos presently enjoy. Much support has been gathered for a complete ban on smoking casinos, although some are worried about the economic impact a ban could have.
What is the current smoking policy in Atlantic City’s casinos?
Atlantic City casinos can designate up to 25% of the casino gaming floor as a smoking area, of which many of the nine Atlantic Casinos use between 20-25%. There aren’t any Atlantic City casinos with no smoking whatsoever.
Why are Atlantic City casinos exempt from the public smoking ban?
When New Jersey banned indoor public smoking in the 2006 Smoke-Free Air Act, they made an exemption for businesses economically dependent on smokers, such as cigar lounges and casinos. Acting Governor Richard Codey said at the time that he had to agree to an exemption for casinos to get general indoor public smoking banned.
Would a smoking ban affect Atlantic City casino revenue?
There is evidence to suggest that a complete ban on smoking on the casino floor may adversely affect casino revenue into the double digits figure. Some sources suggest a 10-20% decline in revenue, which could endanger around 3,000 jobs and close one or even two casinos in the city.