OPINION: New Jersey’s Casino Smoking Ban Makes Sense

  • Atlantic City’s casinos may end up with a smoking ban in 2022.
  • During 2021, smoking was banned in casinos, but profits still soared.
  • Now, lawmakers want to make the ban permanent, having seen that it did not impact profits.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The debate over smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos has once again reached a fever pitch in New Jersey.

Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Health Committee, will attempt to get a bill passed regarding banning smoking in casinos in 2022.

Smoking was banned in public facilities and workplaces in 2006, but casinos received a specific exemption - an exemption that Vitale views as harmful.

Vitale framed casino industry objections to the bill as scare tactics:

“They try to cloud the argument with job loss or financial ruin,” he said. “None of that will happen, but they like to scare them employees — ‘you’ll lose your job if we stop smoking in the casino,’ notwithstanding the fact that the croupiers are getting lung cancer and emphysema because people constantly blow smoke in their face.”

The casino sector obviously wants to keep smoking in casinos because they seem to think it’s a profit driver.

Many assume that it has to matter - that some number of customers are driven to the casino by the ability to smoke, or return to the casino for such a reason. However, it’s not entirely clear how much it matters to their bottom line - and the bottom line is all the state cares about.

Casino Profits Soared While Smoking Was Banned

During the early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order banning smoking at Atlantic City’s casinos that lasted until July 2021.

During that time, the casinos saw high profit levels despite the ban on smoking, suggesting that it is not a major factor in profit driving. In fact, the casinos set a revenue record in June 2021, when the ban was still in effect.

With this in mind, it seems hard to argue against the function of a ban - it doesn’t seem to affect casino profits, and it makes casinos a safer place to be for everyone.

Sometimes, you have a perfect chance to check your assumptions. New Jersey had that chance - they saw that smoking bans didn’t meaningfully impact the casino industry’s profit levels. When new information comes up, it’s reasonable to change your viewpoint, and if the casinos can keep making the same - or greater - profits during a smoking ban, there’s no reason for them to have a special carveout allowing smoking.

The state has a stake in casino profits - they get a percentage of revenue. If there was a significant downside to removing the casino industry’s exemption, it would impact their thinking, because it would impact their wallet.

We’ll see how this fight plays out, but for now, it seems that momentum is shifting towards the ban.