The issue of smoking in Atlantic City casinos seems certain to be addressed sooner or later, although that discussion will not start, as planned, at the upcoming meeting of the East Coast Gaming Congress after the city’s casino industry pulled out of a round-table meeting. The CANJ was due to be represented by Mark Giannantonio, CEO of the Resorts Casino Hotel, but with just a week to go, he informed reporters that he would not attend. Instead, he spoke directly to the media to inform them that the casinos had not changed position, and they continued to believe that a smoking ban at this point would threaten NJ casino gaming.
There are many points on which both sides of the debate agree. Everyone is in agreement, for example, that a solution has to be found on the issue of exposing casino employees to second-hand smoke. Everyone also seems to be in broad support of the idea that any solution found must not threaten jobs in the industry. However, how this is achieved seems to be a major sticking point, and it doesn’t seem that the sides are particularly close to finding any mutually-satisfactory way of taking action.
Giannantonio is the successor to Joe Lupo, CEO of the Hard Rock Atlantic City casino, at the head of the CANJ, which represents casino management in the state of New Jersey. Lupo caused controversy and ill-feeling earlier in the year when he referred to protestors in favor of a smoking ban as “30 people walking down the boardwalk” and suggested that they didn’t appropriately represent the approximately 21,000 casino employees in the city. And while Giannantonio struck a more conciliatory note, acknowledging that the discussion needed to take place, he reaffirmed the CANJ’s stance that now was not the time.
Those in favor of a smoking ban could certainly be argued to have momentum on their side at present, as bills in both the state Senate and Assembly have support from across the political spectrum and, if they were to be passed by a congressional vote, would go to Governor Phil Murphy for the final signature. Murphy is known to favor a smoking ban, and any bills which came to his desk would likely be signed without much delay. Nonetheless, this is only part of the story.
The leading union in the area representing Atlantic City casino workers, Unite Here Local 54, is in agreement that a smoking ban at this point could lead to widespread job losses and therefore opposes a ban right now. Their opposition to any such legislation is understood to be among the reasons that Senate Bill 264 and Assembly Bill 2151, which call for a ban, have not been put in front of lawmakers for a debate and subsequent vote. While groups such as Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights disagree with the idea that the economic impact would be as claimed by the representatives against a ban, the sum total of the result is that there may be some time to wait before a compromise plan can go into action.