In Brief

Bill to ban smoking in casinos finally gets hearing, but no vote

By: - February 14, 2023 6:55 am

Supporters of the ban say they face significant health risks because of secondhand smoke from casino customers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Hundreds of casino workers, housekeepers, restaurant employees, card dealers, and casino customers testified Monday in support of legislation that would ban smoking inside New Jersey casinos.

They shared stories of working in clouds of smoke, seeing their colleagues die in their 40s and 50s from cancer, and coming home “smelling like an ashtray” after grueling shifts.

But critics of the bill said it would keep them from visiting Atlantic City. 

“One thing I like … is I can smoke in there and be relaxed. But if I can’t do that because it becomes 100% non-smoking, I will be driving over the bridge to another casino,” said James Henry, an Atlantic City resident. 

The bill would end the casino exemption in the 2006 law that barred smoking in most public indoor spaces.

Sen. Shirley Turner, who sponsored the 2006 law, has introduced legislation to include casinos in the smoking ban in every legislative session for the last 17 years. She cited studies showing overwhelming support for a smoking ban in casinos and pointed to 24 other states that ban smoking in gambling halls.

“So we know that casinos are still earning huge profits,” she said.

Monday’s hearing was intended as a discussion of the bill only. Turner (D-Essex) said she hopes the full Senate will consider the bill at its next voting session. Republican Sen. Bob Singer, another sponsor, noted at least 21 lawmakers support the bipartisan bill, the same number of yes votes the bill would need to pass.

Pete Naccarelli, a dealer at the Borgata, described what it’s like dealing with smoking customers.

“I’m responsible for thousands of dollars worth of chips. Therefore, when a player who is 12 inches from me blows a plume of smoke from his cigar or cigarette, I can’t move,” Naccarelli said. “I can’t move, I can’t turn around, and I’m not supposed to wave the smoke away because it’s a rude gesture. I’m stuck.” 

Another casino dealer, Lamont White, recalled his colleague Joe, who didn’t smoke or drink but died in his 50s of cancer. White said he wonders how much secondhand smoke he’s inhaled himself in 38 years in the casino business. 

But some workers said they fear a smoking ban would cost some of them their jobs if customers head elsewhere to gamble.

Christina Renna, president of the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the state should continue to allow smoking in casinos as long as there are accessible casinos in Pennsylvania that allow it. She said the ban would hurt Atlantic City’s tourism economy. 

White, founder of Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects, pleaded with lawmakers to consider how this legislation impacts not only him, but his family and future grandkids. 

“Some may say this is an economic decision, but I disagree. I’m sure Joe’s family disagrees,” White said.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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