Once again, Atlantic City and potential smoking bans are center stage in the news. A group of casino workers from the city are pressing the state to tighten smoking laws. Conversely, casino owners against signing an anti-smoking law are likely concerned by Phil Murphy, New Jersey’s governor. He stated that he would sign a smoking ban into law should a bill be passed. Currently, New Jersey Casinos benefit from a loophole in existing public smoking laws. It seems smokers are more valuable to casinos than their non-smoking counterparts; smokers tend to lose more money while also spending more on products unrelated to gambling.
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Smoking has historically featured heavily in US casinos – sometimes, it has even been glamorized. It has since become a divisive topic, as pros and cons from various topics are considered. Although smoking bans have gradually swept the nation, some exceptions remain, particularly in casinos. In 2010 The New York Times even referred to Las Vegas as a smoker’s oasis. In New Jersey, Atlantic City briefly banned smoking in 2008, before reversing the decision after complaints from casinos. Smoking in New Jersey Casinos has been a contentious topic ever since.
A new report from an independent gambling research firm, Spectrum Gaming Group, was commissioned by the casino association of New Jersey. It confirmed that there would be several economic costs if a smoking ban were to be enacted. Most notably, these included between 1,021 to 2,512 jobs lost, which would contain up to 10% of Atlantic City’s casino workforce. In terms of revenue, the report predicts that non-gambling revenue would fall by up to $93 million and that tax revenue would fall by up to $44 million.
When looking at the ongoing contention surrounding smoking in casinos superficially, it is easy to sympathize or understand the perspective of the opposing sides. Casino workers are rightly concerned about developing respiratory problems and other medical ailments from second-hand smoke. Workers having to choose between their personal health or getting paid is a choice no one should have to make in America. Casinos, however, have attempted to mitigate this by investing vast sums of money in air filters and purifiers. They also make a solid case that Atlantic City gains an array of economic benefits by allowing smoking to take place in their casinos. These benefits include more jobs for Atlantic City locals, more tax money for the state of New Jersey, and of course, the casino’s own profits.
Ultimately the issue is more complex than simply health vs. profits. However, given national and global trends smoking in public places such as casinos will likely not last long. Casinos that can adapt to this are likely to bounce back and overcome short-term losses. According to panelists at a trade show organized by the National Indian Gaming Association in July 2021, this has already been demonstrated.