TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights
RE: Ahead of Monday’s Casino Smoking Hearing: What You Need to Know
DATE: February 9, 2023
Monday’s first-ever hearing on legislation to close the casino smoking loophole in New Jersey – 17 years in the making – is first and foremost about protecting the health of thousands of New Jersey workers who are exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke every single day at their workplaces that causes cancer and cardiovascular disease. It’s about Atlantic City casino dealers like Tammy Brady, who wrote about having to return to a smoke-filled workplace as she battles cancer because she still needs income to pay the bills:
“After working in casinos for nearly 40 years, I was recently diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. While I’m not sure we will ever know the exact cause of my illness, I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened had I not worked in casinos — or better yet, if casinos didn’t force me to breathe in secondhand smoke all throughout my shifts…For workers like me, this is literally a life-or-death fight.”
How We Got Here
Since smoking returned on July 4, 2021, Atlantic City casino workers have been fed up. They had just experienced a year of a smokefree work environment in the early days of the pandemic. Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE) formed in 2021 and has grown exponentially since then. Watch this short video highlighting CEASE’s fight to protect their health.
“No other group of workers in our state must deal with secondhand smoke like we do – two feet in front of our faces, without even the ability to turn our heads because we’re watching over the chips on the table,” said CEASE, which has gained union support in this fight from the union representing casino table games dealers in Atlantic City, the United Auto Workers (UAW). Dealers bear the brunt of the dangerous secondhand smoke more harshly than anyone else working in casinos, and their voices must carry the most weight.
New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act took effect on April 15, 2006 – but carved out an exemption for casinos. S264 and A2151 are identical bills that “[e]liminate [the] smoking ban exemption for casinos and simulcasting facilities.” This legislation is being cosponsored by 25 state senators and 51 state assembly members – a bipartisan majority in both chambers that includes the entire Atlantic City delegation, a majority of the Assembly and Senate health committees, and a majority of South Jersey Assembly Democrats. The bills will pass with flying colors once they’re put to a vote.
Casinos Want to Talk Revenue? Sure, Let’s Talk Revenue
“Destroying lungs for profit is a lousy business model,” wrote the NJ.com editorial board last month. It’s callous to ignore the health ramifications for thousands of workers because casino executives care more about their financial bottom line. But that’s exactly what’s happening. They are putting perceived profits over their people – with an emphasis on perceived.
Respected Las Vegas-based researchers C3 Gaming released a report last year analyzing revenue performance in several competitive casino markets, including in eastern Pennsylvania, and found smokefree casinos, for the first time, generated more revenue: “Data from multiple jurisdictions clearly indicates that banning smoking no longer causes a dramatic drop in gaming revenue. In fact, non-smoking properties appear to be performing better than their counterparts that continue to allow smoking.” Read their entire report here.
When given the chance to defend their position in public last September, the East Coast Gaming Conference (ECGC) canceled a panel discussion on indoor smoking after the head of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) abruptly backed out.
Job Losses? Casinos Can’t Even Fill the Existing Openings
As the Press of AC reported this week, “Atlantic City casinos still finding it tough to fill jobs.” “The gaming, hospitality and tourism industries are still struggling to meet employment needs as the region continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. That was the recurring theme of a labor summit hosted Tuesday by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism School of Business at Stockton University…Another reason casinos are short-staffed is because of the lack of people eligible for casino jobs.”
Atlantic City is Surrounded By Smokefree Casinos
Every casino in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware that competes with Atlantic City does not allow indoor smoking. In Pennsylvania, the top revenue-generating casino in the Commonwealth, Parx Casino just north of Philadelphia, has been voluntarily operating smokefree for the last several years.
“Our employees love it and have been very grateful for it. If you look at our market share numbers they have held up just fine and business does well,” said Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, which owns Parx. “We survey our customers and there are as many customers that say they like smoking as those that don’t. But we try to make it easy for those who do prefer to smoke…I don’t see why we would go back. Our customers and team members have gotten used to it.”
As Governor Murphy has said, even without indoor smoking, “At the end of the day, we will still get good business. Atlantic City is an American gem. We’ve got the ocean and the other competitors don’t. And this is the right thing for our respective health.”
Atlantic City Casinos Surpassed Pre-Pandemic Revenue in 2022
Casinos will always find a reason to oppose ending indoor smoking, and lately they’ve claimed they are struggling financially. The facts say otherwise: “New Jersey’s gambling revenue matched its all-time high of $5.2 billion in 2022…In-person winnings from gamblers finally surpassed pre-pandemic levels of 2019 — a long-sought goal of the Atlantic City casino industry. The casinos won $2.78 billion from in-person gamblers in 2022, compared with $2.68 billion in 2019,” reported the Associated Press.
Ventilation Experts Say Even the Best Ventilation Systems Fail to Protect Health
Casinos make false claims about their ventilation systems protecting their workers. Ventilation systems are not the answer, according to the engineers who design such systems and collectively make up the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
“[Ventilation systems] are not effective against secondhand smoke” and “can reduce only odor and discomfort, but cannot eliminate exposure,” they wrote to casino executives. “There is no currently available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air-cleaning system that can adequately control or significantly reduce the health risks of [environmental tobacco smoke] to an acceptable level.”
New Jersey Medical Groups: Workers “Unnecessarily Exposed”
“A collection of medical groups and health advocates are urging state lawmakers to pass a bipartisan but long-stalled bill that would ban smoking inside Atlantic City casinos, saying workers are being ‘unnecessarily exposed’ to secondhand smoke,” reported NJ.com. The full letter states: “We are writing to urge you to hold a hearing on, and then put forth for a full floor vote in your respective chambers, legislation that would eliminate the casino smoking loophole and protect casino workers from breathing dangerous secondhand smoke while on the job.”
National Problem Gambling Group Says Bills “Would Improve Public Health”
The leading organization dealing with gambling addiction warned legislators that continuing to allow indoor smoking at Atlantic City casinos will only encourage gambling addiction, but that passing bipartisan bills, S264 and A2151, to close the casino smoking loophole would help to address this concern. “Making casinos smokefree is likely to reduce the incidence of problem gambling and improve public health,” wrote the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) in separate letters to members of the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly.
Top Casino Lobbyist Rebuts Claims That Indoor Smoking Hurts Revenue
American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller has repeatedly said casinos that have remained smokefreee indoors coming out of the pandemic have not experienced a decrease in revenue. In an interview with Roger Gros of Global Gaming Business, Miller said: “It is true, that during COVID, and then in the aftermath, there were operators that decided, because they were required, to reopen smokefree, and then when they were no longer required to be smokefree, they remained smokefree without being disadvantaged economically.”
Further, former top casino executive Richard Schuetz wrote: “As a former Las Vegas casino CEO who has also worked in an Atlantic City casino, I am familiar with scare tactics employed by casinos to try to cling to outdated business practices. And I write with an urgent message to New Jersey’s casino executives: Now is the time to get rid of indoor smoking, once and for all. You broke revenue records and most definitely are not struggling.”