NJ Senate Hasn't 'Even Started to Talk About' Bill to Ban Smoking in Atlantic City Casinos

The New Jersey Senate hasn't "even started to talk about" a bill that would ban smoking in Atlantic City's casinos.

New Jersey state Senate President Steve Sweeney said no discussion as to whether to move with the bill to ban smoking sitting in the state Legislature have been had.

Recently re-elected Democratic Governor Phil Murphy said he will sign the bill if it is approved by lawmakers, The Associated Press reported. However, Sweeney, who was defeated in the re-election, didn't appear to be in any hurry to consider it Thursday.

Thursday was also the day anti-smoking activists held a news conference to persuade lawmakers to pass the bill during a lame-duck session of the Legislature currently happening. The session will end on January 11 before newly-elected members are sworn into office.

"We haven't even started to talk about it, really, in any deep dialog," Sweeney said at a groundbreaking ceremony for a supermarket in Atlantic City. "The governor, myself, and the (Assembly) speaker have to get together and decide which bills we're going to move forward."

"I don't know what the lame duck's going to look like. The Legislature and the governor all have to be in agreement. So, we'll see," he added.

A poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network showed that New Jersey residents favor banning smoking in casinos by a margin greater than 2-to-1.

"We're glad New Jersey voters agree that we should not have to choose between our health and a paycheck," Robin Vitulle, a dealer supervisor in Atlantic City for over 36 years, said.

New Jersey's current law bans smoking in a majority of indoor places but specifically exempts casinos.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Atlantic City Casinos, Bill, Smoking Ban
New Jersey's political leaders aren't interested yet in pursuing a bill to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos. Above, casino workers hold signs at a rally on the Atlantic City Boardwalk on June 30, 2021, as they demand the smoking ban. Wayne Parry/AP Photo

"From our experiences, our customers have no problem stepping outside to smoke because they must do so everywhere else. Then they come back inside and continue to gamble. We cannot wait any longer for clear air in our workplace and we urge the legislature to finally act to close the casino loophole," Vitulle continued.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Murphy banned smoking as a virus transmission-prevention measure when the casinos reopened in July after 3 1/2 months of being closed.

That ban expired in April of this year, and smoking foes have been trying to get it reinstituted and made permanent ever since.

"Right now, our policy that allows smoking in casinos, but bans smoking outside the casino doors on Atlantic City boardwalks and beaches is not only inconsistent, it is inconsiderate and unfair to casino workers," said state Senator Shirley Turner, a central Jersey Democrat. "In this day and age, secondhand smoke should not be an occupational hazard."

The situation is now what it was before the pandemic: Casino patrons can smoke on no more than 20 percent of the casino floor, signs designate areas where smoking is allowed, and the casinos have invested heavily in air filtration systems.

Earlier this year, the Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group representing the Atlantic City casinos, said a permanent ban would do great harm to the industry.

Atlantic City Casinos, Bill, Smoking Ban
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says he'll sign the smoking ban bill if it's passed. Above, casino workers march on the Atlantic City Boardwalk on June 30, 2021. Wayne Parry/AP Photo