Will smoking be banned in Atlantic City casinos? Lawmakers to consider bill this week

Casino workers hold a rally in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 to call on the state Legislature to pass a bill to ban smoking inside the nine casinos. The rally was held on the 16th anniversary of a New Jersey that banned indoor smoking virtually everywhere in the state, except in casinos. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

State lawmakers are inching closer to potentially imposing a complete smoking ban in Atlantic City casinos, with an important hearing set this week.

The bill, S264, would no longer allow an exemption for designated casino smoking areas in the “New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act," a landmark 2006 law that prohibited smoking in almost all indoor public places.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday in Trenton on the measure, which has received considerable bipartisan support. The Senate bill has 26 sponsors and the Assembly version has 57.

Supporters say it would protect casino workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Opponents have often said the ban would hurt casino revenues, the economic engine of the Atlantic City region.

The bill and its many earlier versions have stalled in Trenton over the years. But after November's elections, the Legislature has entered its lame-duck session, in which bills are often advanced at a rapid-fire pace before the two-year session expires in January. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin seemed to throw support behind the bill at a news conference this month where he said his members would "take a look and see what we can get done," according to press reports.

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The bill would also ban smoking indoors at simulcast facilities. The Meadowlands Racing complex in East Rutherford allows smoking only at designated areas outdoors.

Smoking is permitted on about 20% of a casino floor in Atlantic City. A temporary ban was implemented at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but smoking returned when Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the temporary ban.

At an Assembly hearing in March, supporters and opponents came out to testify on the bill.

Dozens of members of CEASE, Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, attended the hearing, with members saying they shouldn't be subjected to secondhand smoke. Workers are at “great risk to the health hazards caused by secondhand smoke, including heart disease, lung cancer, and acute and chronic respiratory illnesses,” according to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey and the Unite Here Local 54 hospitality workers' union said a ban might prompt some gamblers to go to other casinos in nearby states that allow smoking.

Public places in NJ that still allow smoking

If the ban on casino smoking were to pass, New Jerseyans would be able to light up in only a few public places, including:

  • Cigar lounges or tobacco shops.

  • Golf courses.

  • Designated areas on beaches.

  • Research laboratories studying the effects of smoking.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Atlantic City casinos may no longer allow indoor smoking