In Brief

Workers urge lawmakers to ban smoking in casinos

By: - October 27, 2021 6:55 am

Smoking is largely banned in indoor public spaces in New Jersey, except casinos. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

A group of Atlantic City casino workers urged legislative leaders to advance a bill that would bar indoor smoking at the gambling mecca Thursday, and asked Gov. Phil Murphy to exert pressure to get the stalled bill moving.

Smoking was already disallowed at workplaces and indoor public spaces in the state under the 2006 Smoke Free Air Act, and outdoor smoking was further curtailed by a 2018 bill that barred cigarettes and electronic cigarettes at public beaches and most parks. That law does allow municipalities to create small beach smoking areas.

“The law basically prohibited smoking outside. Are our lives worth less than a seagull’s life?” said Nicole Vitola, a member of Casino Employees Against Smoking. “We have been quietly suffering with this for 15 years, but we will no longer be silent.”

The 2006 law exempted casino and casino simulcast facilities from the ban. Vitola and other casino employees urged lawmakers to advance a bill (S-1878) that would eliminate those carveouts.

At their press conference, the casinos workers appeared to blame Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) for the bill’s standstill, though it has yet to reach committees in either chamber since its introduction last February.

“There is no way that men that care for children as much as Gov. Murphy and President Sweeney can turn their backs on dozens of pregnant casino workers languishing in smoke-filled rooms every day,” said Lamont White, who has worked as a dealer in Atlantic City for 36 years.

Sweeney and his spokespeople did not return requests for comment.

The measure has drawn limited interest from lobbyists so far, though it’s won support from the American Heart Association and has been opposed by Caesars Entertainment, which owns three Atlantic City casinos — Tropicana, Caesars, and Harrah’s Resort.

Casino workers got a respite from their smoky workplaces last September, when Murphy issued an executive order banning indoor smoking over concerns the practice could exacerbate the spread of COVID-19. That ban lapsed in July.

The governor has since said he would sign the smoking ban bill if it reaches his desk, and both Senate candidates in the 2nd Legislative District, Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) and former Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic), have expressed support for it.

Former State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Atlantic) was among the bill’s Senate sponsors before he resigned from the legislature in July to take a position in the Murphy administration with oversight over Atlantic City.

‘This needs to happen now,” Vitola said. “It’s only a matter of time until another one of us falls ill or dies from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.”

An earlier version of this story misstated that Caesars Entertainment owns Bally’s casino.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.