A new study claims that if New Jersey passes a smoking ban in Atlantic City’s casinos gambling revenue could decrease nearly 11% and cost up to 2,500 jobs. However, a large group of casino workers in America’s Playground are of the opinion that the study, commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey, is rife with incorrect assumptions and that gaming businesses are prioritizing profits over the health of their employees.
Angela Martinelli, a 58-year-old dealer from Atlantic City, started working at The Claridge in 1995. She dreaded being assigned to the high-roller’s baccarat room, which they referred to as “the Dungeon” because it was notoriously a miasma of cigarette smoke.
“You must walk up close to people in order to be able to spot them,” says Martinelli, who works for the Borgata, and is usually assigned to the smoking section in two of her five shifts every week. “It was a stinky fog.”
In the past few years she began having difficulty breathing, and is now dependent on an oxygen concentrator. Doctors say smoking secondhand cigarettes is likely to be the cause.
In July, following the time that Atlantic City lifted the temporary smoking ban implemented during the height of the pandemic, three longtime Borgata dealers formed the group Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) to push for an end to smoking cigarettes indoors. Lamont White, Pete Naccarelli and Nicole Vitola started organizing on Facebook and today, more than 22,000 casino employees have joined the group, which is trying to close the legal loophole which permits smoking in some areas of casinos.
“Bottom bottom line: They’re discussing money over health,” says Naccarelli, a 44-year-old dealer who’s been working in casinos since he was 18 years old. “People are dying in the casinos, and people are becoming sick. The long-term health effects of secondhand smoke have been documented and are costing lives. Smoking outdoors is not allowed on the beach as you’ll harm the seagulls, but smoking in my eyes.”
The report, released by Spectrum Gaming Group, claims that a prohibition of smoking cigars and cigarettes could cause a 10.9 percentage decrease in gaming revenues which could result in a loss of $93 million from non-gaming revenue and a loss of approximately $44 million of tax revenues. The report claims that a ban will affect up to 2,500 casino jobs.
The rationale, according to the research is that smokers are spending “significantly more” in gambling than non-smokers. Spectrum estimates that 21 percent from Atlantic City casino visitors are smokers. However, they contribute between 26.1 percent and 31.3% of the casinos’ revenue. Thanks to the fact that smokers gamble more, Spectrum puts a 25 percentage to 50% value in the form of value to casinos for those who smoke when they play.
The study showed that the case where a smoker and nonsmoker played slots for two hours in a smoke-free facility and the smoker lost lesser money than those who smoke as a result of cigarettes breaks. Two ten-minute cigarette breaks could cut down the smoker’s “time-on-device”–a critical measurement of customer engagement which reflects on the amount a gambler is likely to spend–by 17 percent.
Joe Lupo, president of both the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City and the Casino Association of New Jersey, claims that a smoking restriction would be a major negative for the South Jersey town. He claims that the odds of winning for smoking areas are about 50% higher on average compared to games played in non-smoking rooms.
“We are bound to lose business,” says Lupo. “At an era of coming out of the pandemic when airline and car traffic to Atlantic City are both at 12-year lows and the gaming revenues for Atlantic City are almost half of what it was when we were at our highest point in 2000, this isn’t a good moment to look at another negative effect on the city that’s trying to bounce back.”
The casinos in Atlantic City are the few remaining places of refuge smoking smokers have in this part of the Garden State. New Jersey banned indoor smoking in the year 2006 however the law provided an opening for casinos and simulcast locations. Smoking is permitted at Atlantic City casinos on up to 25 percent of the area. Other states, such as Louisiana, Illinois and Delaware prohibited smoking in casinos in the past. The state of Pennsylvania allows smoking on 50% of casino floors and Lupo states that a ban within New Jersey will result in gamblers escaping to safer pastures in close proximity to Philadelphia.
However hard Atlantic City casinos fight, an end to the ban is coming soon. Two bills are being considered by the New Jersey legislature–one in the assembly and the other in the senate. Both bills would eliminate the smoking loophole in Atlantic City casinos. Both are headed for a vote in early March and Gov. Phil Murphy says he will sign a bill closing the loophole if it ends up on his desk.
New Jersey Sen. Vincent Polistina the state senator from New Jersey, a Republican who is in favor of the ban, believes it’s only a matter time until the “antiquated” smoking inside is not allowed at casinos.
“Secondhand smoke is a known carcinogen and we need to take care of our health first,” Polistina says. “I don’t believe employees should be exposed to the smell of smoke in their face.”
He is of the opinion that the doom and doom predicted by hospitality industry organizations , when smoking was prohibited in bars and restaurants didn’t occur and he is convinced that the same thing could happen in casinos.
When asked who is going to lose out if the bill becomes law, Polistina doesn’t hesitate. “I don’t believe anyone will lose,” he says. “I think there could be more players in casinos who will be content that there’s no smoke. If it’s approved I believe employees benefit, and I believe the operators benefit when you have more people inside the buildings.”
Gambling is the lifeblood in Atlantic City and Lupo states that a ban would be a ripple effect for all companies, not just hotels and casinos.
“We want a reprieve to consider this at a later point particularly since Pennsylvania is a smoker,” Lupo says. “We do not want another casino to shut. We don’t want lay off players.”
Spectrum’s report found that 13 percent of smokers will remain gambling even if a ban was enacted. Additionally, a smoking ban wouldn’t affect any smokers, or anyone else who gambles in New Jersey, from gambling on the internet. New Jersey has the biggest gaming market for iGaming–mobile blackjack, mobile poker virtual slots, and many other games at casinos–in the nation and is among the nation’s largest sports betting markets via mobile.
The study also showed that nonsmokers attracted to the smoke-free air might increase their playing time and boost the revenue from gaming by 1% to 1.5%, however it wouldn’t be enough to offset the loss resulting from smoking.
In the event ofOctober, Bill Miller, the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, told PlayNJ that many casino operators had said that smoking restrictions during Covid did not result in a decrease in business. Miller stated that smoking bans in some casinos didn’t cause “detrimental impacts.”
Casino operators believe that air filtration systems reduce the majority of the dangers associated smoking in indoor. When the pandemic was raging, New Jersey casinos banned indoor smoking in all establishments, but one month before smoking in the indoors was reinstated and indoor smoking resumed, smoking was allowed. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) wrote a letter to the Casino Association of New Jersey asking them to keep the prohibit smoking. “There is currently no available or reasonably anticipated ventilation or air-cleaning device that could effectively regulate or substantially reduce dangers of smoking tobaccoin a safe manner,” the letter reads.
Lamont White, a cofounder of CEASE and a dealer at Borgata He believes it’s the right time to make things changed. “I’ve been in business since 1985 and could smoke in a hospital and a plane or in a barbershop” says White. “Today, the whole world has changed, with the exception of casinos.”