Greater Atlantic City Chamber calls to halt casino smoking ban proposals

The Greater Atlantic City Chamber has issued a statement opposing a proposal for a permanent smoking ban at Atlantic City casinos. Michael Chait, president of the Chamber, said in an open letter released on Thursday that a smoking ban “would have a negative impact on the casino industry,” resulting in significant job losses and a decline in revenues.

According to Chait, as the Atlantic City community struggles to rebuild and recover, the priority must be “to support and maintain a favorable economic environment” for local businesses and employees. To that end, the business group sees efforts to introduce a smoking ban as counterproductive and argues they “should be halted.”

“We recognize the concerns of casino employees who support a smoking ban, but we also must keep in mind that thousands of employees and their families will be impacted by lost jobs if a ban is passed,” the editorial reads. The group says the ban would not only hurt the casino industry but also local businesses and vendors that rely on casinos for their economic livelihood.

Additionally, the Greater Atlantic City Chamber claims that a permanent smoking ban would put the city “at a competitive disadvantage” with casinos in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, where smoking is permitted. This argument has also been leveraged by the Casino Association of New Jersey, which has long opposed the smoking ban proposal.

Joe Lupo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey

“As we continue to rebuild and recover from the pandemic, Atlantic City deserves a level playing field,” Chait wrote. “By imposing a smoking ban, we are simply driving visitors, businesses and jobs away from our region to neighboring states.”

But the Chamber president also argues the success of online gaming in New Jersey has created “a misperception” about the current state of the Atlantic City casino industry. Employment and visitation are “at a 20-year low,” Chait argues, while land-based gaming revenues are down from 2019, yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

These arguments also echo an analysis by research and professional services firm Spectrum Gaming Group, commissioned by the CANJ. The report found a smoking ban could lead to as much as a 10% reduction in workforce from the loss of between 1,000 and 2,500 jobs, while potentially leading to as much as a 10.9% drop in revenue.

As the numbers demonstrate, this is not the time to enact policy changes that could inflict yet another blow to an already struggling industry and the employees, families and businesses that it supports,” Chait warned, while highlighting Atlantic City remains “the economic engine of not only South Jersey, but the entire state.”

I urge legislators to protect the jobs, tourism and revenue that fuel our local and regional economy and oppose any efforts to enact a smoking ban at Atlantic City casinos,” his statement reads. “The growth and vitality of our community depend on it.”

The statement has led Atlantic Prevention Resources – an agency dedicated to the prevention of the harm caused by alcohol, tobacco and other drug use and/or violence- to resign from the chamber the same day it was published, reports Associated Press.

“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,” executive director Bob Zlotnick said. “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.”

These developments represent a new chapter in the ongoing fight over the proposed smoking ban in Atlantic City. Venues in the New Jersey destination currently permit smoking on 25% of the gaming floor, and have long expressed opposition to a permanent prohibition.

Meanwhile, workers in New Jersey have long pushed for the ban to be introduced, seeking to eliminate a loophole in the state’s current smoking law specifically exempting casinos. Smoking within venues was banned as a Covid-19 transmission-prevention measure in 2020, but the ban expired in April 2021: employees have since tried to get it reinstituted. 

There is currently a bill in the New Jersey state Senate seeking to introduce the smoking ban. Nearly a third of the senate has signed on as sponsors or cosponsors of the legislation, reports AP, after five more senators co-sponsored the proposal (S264) on Thursday. Gov. Phil Murphy has said he would sign a bill on the matter should it land on his desk.

“Smoking inside should no longer be acceptable in casinos,” said Sen. Jon Bramnick, a Republican from northern New Jersey. “Employees have the right to breathe while working without the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.”

The Senate bill has been referred to the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, while in the Assembly, the bill has been referred to the Health Committee.