A recently-released report states that banning smoking in Atlantic City casinos could eliminate up to 2,500 jobs and over 10% of casinos' revenue as they try to come back from losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Gambling research firm Spectrum Gaming Group offered the report that supports casinos’ claims that eliminating smoking would harm business, deprive New Jersey of needed tax revenue, and put thousands of casino employees on the street.
A group of casino workers and smoking opponents criticized the report, saying it prioritizes casino profits over the health of employees and patrons. They said it doesn't examine what will likely happen in subsequent years as patrons get used to the smoking ban, citing the experience of some casinos, including tribal casinos, where business rebounded or even increased after an initial lull.
The Casino Association of New Jersey commissioned the report, which did not recommend whether smoking should be banned, an option that is gaining support in the state Legislature. New Jersey's Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, has said he will sign a smoking ban into law if a bill is passed.
Many casino advantage players, who spend countless hours plying their trade in casinos, are strongly in favor of the smoking ban, for health and comfort reasons. Rebecca, who did not want her last name used, primarily plays blackjack as a card counter. She said, “I constantly travel to casinos around the country. By the end of every day, my eyes are red and hurting from all the smoke exposure, my clothes stink, and I feel lousy. It sure would be nice to get rid of the smoke.”
The study determined that smokers, who account for 21% of Atlantic City casino patrons, are worth more to casinos than non-smokers in that they tend to lose more money.
Lupo said casino employment and visitation to Atlantic City are both at 20-year lows, and in-person gaming revenue has yet to return to pre-COVID levels, down in 2021 compared to 2019. “Now is not the time to enact a smoking ban,” he said, opining that doing so “could cause a devastating effect to the community and state.”
A Borgata dealer and a leader of the group demanding a smoking ban, said employees “cannot continue to choose between our health and a paycheck. This study, paid for by the casino industry, shows once again that they care more about outdated business practices than they do about the lives and health of their workers,” she said. “Casinos’ blatant disregard for our well-being is disgraceful, especially after they just received tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks from the state."
Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights referred to a tribal gaming meeting in Las Vegas at which it was reported that revenue lost during the first year of smoking bans usually rebounded in subsequent years to more than what it was before the bans. They also noted a statement last fall from Bill Miller, president of the American Gaming Association, that some casinos have eliminated smoking “without detrimental effects.”
Smoking is still permitted on 25% of the casino floor in Atlantic City. The casinos claim that banning it entirely would cede customers to neighboring Pennsylvania, where many casinos still allow smoking throughout.
Some Atlantic City casino workers, helped by national non-smoking groups, have been pushing for New Jersey to close the loophole in its public smoking law that allows smoking to continue in casinos; it is banned in most other indoor spaces in the state.
Legislation to end casino smoking was defeated in last year's state legislative session, but has been reintroduced, gaining bipartisan political support.
Atlantic City briefly banned smoking in casinos in 2008, but unhappy with the results, quickly returned it to the present 25% level. In the first week of the 2008 ban, casino winnings declined by 19.5%, according to data compiled by state regulators.
The report acknowledged that some non-smoking patrons would be more likely to visit casinos if smoking was eliminated. But the report claimed that the additional business would not be enough to offset the overall forecasted decline in revenue.
“Atlantic City Casino Smoking Ban May Cost 2,500 Jobs, Report Finds” , Wayne Parry, nbcphiladelphia.com, February 23, 2022.