Twenty US states, including New York and Massachusetts, have so far banned smoking in retail casinos.
Numerous tribal gaming venues have done the same. For instance, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut and the four Navajo Nation-operated casinos don’t allow smoking.
Even in states that permit smoking inside their gaming venues, several prominent casino operators chose to remain smoke-free after the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Atlantic City remains the greatest smoking haven for New Jersey casino patrons with nine gaming floors that allow indoor smoking.
The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) president declared publicly that the time is not right for the shutdown of indoor smoking.
Some fear smoking ban could bring economic risks to New Jersey casinos
Mark Giannantonio, the new president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, has spent a decade as the CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, one of the oldest casinos in Atlantic City.
In an interview with The New York Times, Giannantonio said that a casino smoking ban was most likely a matter of time. He believes that day will come but now is not the time.
“There is a time for this, at some point,” Giannantonio told The Times when commenting about awaiting state legislation that would forbid indoor casino smoking. “It’s just not the right time.”
Giannantonio believes there are several economic threats to New Jersey’s gambling industry. Threats that could be heightened should there be a smoking ban in Atlantic City. These threats include:
- The remaining consequences of the coronavirus pandemic
- A continued recession
- Three potential new gaming venues in the New York City area
While referring to Spectrum Gaming Group’s report, Giannantonio emphasized that a smoking ban would cause a 10 – 11% decline in casino revenue. He believes this revenue decline could lead to 2,500 casino workers losing their jobs.
“Spectrum estimates potential job losses from a smoking ban range from 1,021 to 2,512 depending on the severity of the impact on revenue,” the report says.
Likewise, should NJ casinos ban smoking some gamblers would choose to go to Pennsylvania casinos where it is still legal, Giannantonio said.
Furthermore, smokers pausing games to take a cigarette break would most likely spend less time playing. According to the report, casinos would lose $16.62 over a two-hour period.
Smoking in US casinos paused during the pandemic without consequences
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy banned indoor smoking in Atlantic City casinos throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. But, after a yearlong break, smoking returned to New Jersey casinos when the governor’s emergency health order was lifted right before the Jul. 4 weekend in 2021.
While smoking returned to New Jersey casinos, three Pennsylvania casinos remained consistent:
- Parx Casino banned smoking in June 2021
- Mount Airy Casino has been smoke-free since March 2022
- Rivers Casino Philadelphia has remained smoke-free since May 2022
Rivers, for instance, designed an outdoor patio for smokers, and guests obeyed without issue.
Still, casinos did not struggle during the temporary smoking ban. AC casinos even saw an 11% increase in revenue in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2019.
Proponents think that is because some casino visitors feel more comfortable in non-smoking environments.
What will happen next?
Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) already have the majority support needed in the NJ state legislature to send the anti-smoking bills to the governor.
Murphy said he would sign the bill into law that ends casino smoking. On the other hand, New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari expected the legislation to pass eventually. But he said there were economic things at work.
He also denied allegations he was delaying casino smoking legislation until next year’s election. However, it still remains unclear why the bill hasn’t been moved out of committee.
And as many remain positive the bill will eventually pass, chances are it may only come up for a vote after the 2023 elections.