Atlantic City Casino Leaders Clash With Legislators Over Proposed Smoking Ban

Atlantic City casino leaders worry a smoking ban will make profits go up in smoke, but legislators are pushing to end the puffing.

No smoking symbol in a glass ashtray next to a cigarette, green lighter, and playing cards
Photo: Shutterstock/Thanasis F

Atlantic City has seen its fair share of challenging times. Hurricane Sandy and the Covid-19 pandemic made one point clear: When disaster leaves a casino operating at 25 percent capacity, they won’t hire 100 percent of the workforce. That’s why a proposed smoking ban in casinos is creating concern about a potential reduction of gamblers, which could impact jobs and the economy.

According to Mark Giannantonio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ), “An immediate and complete smoking ban, while smoking is still permitted in casinos in Pennsylvania, against the backdrop of an already weakened and worsening economic climate, would hurt working-class people, endanger tens of thousands of jobs, and jeopardize the millions of dollars in tax revenue dedicated to New Jersey seniors and people with disabilities, as validated by multiple independent studies.”

Yet, every two years since 2006, state senator Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) has introduced a bill to ban smoking in casinos and simulcasting facilities. At press time, the bill is poised for a vote by the full Senate. But at a January New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee meeting, Donna Decaprio, the president of the main casino workers union in Atlantic City, Local 54, urged the committee to reject the proposed bill, saying, “A total ban is going to result in an economic catastrophe for Atlantic City, Atlantic County and the state; there are very broad reaching impacts of this.”

Decaprio argued that a smoking ban would eliminate 3,000 Atlantic City jobs because gamblers who smoke would travel to Philadelphia, where smoking is permitted in 50 percent of casino buildings. Decaprio called for “a balanced compromise,” something between a total ban and smoking everywhere.

In response to those who say that a total ban on smoking in casinos would hurt jobs and revenue, Vitale, one of the Legislature’s leading voices on health-related matters, says, “It’s a false argument that is meant to deceive policymakers and the public that Atlantic City will suffer. There is an evidence-based, data-driven study conducted by C3 Gaming that concludes, among other things, that business is likely to improve if the casino loophole is closed.” Vitale also reminds us of the argument made in 2006 that businesses would fold and jobs would be lost if smoking were banned in restaurants, but that didn’t happen.

Yet other legislators are seeking a compromise. State senator John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro) introduced a bill in February allowing gamblers to smoke on the casino floor, but with additional restrictions, such as allowing smoking in unenclosed areas of the casino floor that contain slot machines that are more than 15 feet away from the table games staffed by live dealers. The bill would also allow smoking in enclosed, separately ventilated rooms, provided that no employee would be assigned to work there unless they volunteered to. Burzichelli told the Associated Press, “It’s about what we can do to keep casinos open, and how do we get it right…Losing one casino means thousands of jobs lost.”

In response to Burzichelli’s bill, Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Harmful Effects (CEASE) said in a statement, “This bill would retain the same level of smoking as is currently permitted and will not decrease in any way the amount of exposure workers have to secondhand smoke.” And Vitale agrees, saying, “We cannot compromise the public health or the health of employees. Secondhand smoke is poison. No compromise is acceptable.”

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Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of six books, including his newest, Lessons in Leadership 2.0: The Tough Stuff. He is an Emmy Award–winning anchor with programs airing on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. He has also appeared on CNN, CBS News and NBC’s Today show. Steve Adubato’s Lessons in Leadership video podcast, with cohost Mary Gamba, airs Saturdays at 5 pm and Sundays at 10 am on News 12+. For more information, visit

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