A bill banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos stalled again Thursday. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
The smoking debate is heating up in Atlantic City
Thursday was supposed to be the day a bill to end smoking in Atlantic City casinos received its first round of votes in the state Congress.
He did not have enough internal support
Instead, the vote, which was scheduled to take place in front of several casino workers and anti-smoking lobbyists, was postponed because Democratic lawmakers revealed they did not have enough internal support to advance the proposal.
This is another turning point in a saga that has been going on for years. Democrats said they would be willing to listen to alternatives proposed by the casino industry in the meantime until the current bill is voted on.
Pull the rug
Current New Jersey law prohibits smoking in public businesses everywhere except Atlantic City, where smoking can be allowed on 25% of the casino floor.
The popular tourist destination reported annual revenues of more than $4 billion at the end of October, and is on track to surpass $5 billion by the end of the year. This comes despite the controversial lack of a smoking ban inside gambling halls, a standard implemented by many other casinos across the country.
“It’s unbelievable that we’re here again begging for the same thing everyone else has,” said Lamont White, a dealer at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
“We have to endure long hours at work with secondhand smoke in our faces without being able to get away,” said Nicole Vitola, who also works as a trader in Borgata.
More than half of state legislators co-sponsored the bill
The bill is currently stuck in the Senate Health Committee. Committee Chairman Joe Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex, said he was one vote away from advancing the bill to the Senate. This is despite more than half of state legislators co-sponsoring the bill.
Sen. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester) dropped his support for the bill hours before the vote was scheduled to take place. He said he is open to the alternatives proposed by the casinos. But it will not support the current plan.
Vitale still believes the vote will take place before the January 9 deadline. If it doesn’t, senators will have to restart the process when the next legislative session begins.
Plan the decision
Although there was optimism that an agreement would be reached in the future, attendees were not happy to learn that voting had been halted.
“Enough is enough,” said Patrick Ashton, a representative of the United Auto Workers, a union that represents casino dealers. “If we can’t pass this bill in the Senate Health Committee – the smoking bill? … We’re still here begging for our lives? It’s a disgrace.”
Opponents of the current draft law are demanding amendments that would allow the establishment of separate, closed smoking rooms. They are also looking for improved ventilation systems inside the casinos.
Smoking ban rules would affect economic momentum
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small does not support the bill in its current form. He expressed sympathy for both sides, but expressed concern that the no-smoking rules would affect the economic momentum that casinos have built in recent years.
The issue of generating revenue is also complicated since last year the city lost half of its $5.2 billion in revenue to technology partners and online sports betting.
“If there’s some kind of compromise that’s a win-win and everyone can come together and we can keep jobs safe, I’m all for that,” Small said.
The United Auto Workers union called the idea of smoking rooms “ridiculous” and called on lawmakers to drop the idea if it were formally introduced.
C3 Gaming, a casino consulting firm, said casinos that banned smoking were economically fruitful. Examples were cited in nearby Washington, D.C., Boston, Massachusetts and Maryland.