Atlantic City dealers’ union backs casino smoking ban

April 28, 2022 GMT
Nicole Vitola, a dealer at the Borgata casino, speaks at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 calling on state lawmakers to ban smoking in the gambling halls. On Thursday, April 28, 2022, a union representing dealers endorsed the smoking ban. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Nicole Vitola, a dealer at the Borgata casino, speaks at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 calling on state lawmakers to ban smoking in the gambling halls. On Thursday, April 28, 2022, a union representing dealers endorsed the smoking ban. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Nicole Vitola, a dealer at the Borgata casino, speaks at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 calling on state lawmakers to ban smoking in the gambling halls. On Thursday, April 28, 2022, a union representing dealers endorsed the smoking ban. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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Nicole Vitola, a dealer at the Borgata casino, speaks at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 calling on state lawmakers to ban smoking in the gambling halls. On Thursday, April 28, 2022, a union representing dealers endorsed the smoking ban. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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Nicole Vitola, a dealer at the Borgata casino, speaks at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J. on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 calling on state lawmakers to ban smoking in the gambling halls. On Thursday, April 28, 2022, a union representing dealers endorsed the smoking ban. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A union representing Atlantic City casino dealers is calling on New Jersey lawmakers to prohibit smoking in the resort’s casinos.

The United Auto Workers wrote earlier this week to state legislators asking them to hold hearings on a bill that would close a loophole in state law that leaves casinos as virtually the only indoor workplace where smoking is permitted. The letter was made public on Thursday.

“Our members include dealers who sit inches away from patrons who blow smoke directly into their face for eight hours a day, every single day,” read the letter on behalf of workers at Caesars, Bally’s and Tropicana. “It is simply unacceptable knowing what we know about the dangers of secondhand smoke. No worker in the state of NJ should be forced to breathe cancer-causing chemicals every single day.”

For nearly two years, a group of Atlantic City dealers has been pushing lawmakers to prohibit smoking in the casinos.

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But the casinos’ trade group, The Casino Association of New Jersey, says doing so would place the casinos at a competitive disadvantage in the crowded northeast casino market, particularly when seven of the nine casinos have not exceeded the level of gross operating profit they enjoyed before the pandemic hit.

The casino association commissioned a report in February predicting that a smoking ban would cost jobs and revenue. But casino workers strongly disputed those projections, and said the report did not take into account the possibility that gamblers put off by a smoking ban might return in subsequent years as they adjust to the new smoke-free situation.

The move by the UAW is also significant in that it shows a split between the two major casino workers’ unions in Atlantic City. In a letter sent earlier this month to state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, urged lawmakers not to pass a smoking ban.

A smoking ban “would mean lost jobs for our union and throughout the state, and lost tax revenues and less money for senior programs,” said McDevitt, whose union represents workers engaged in other casino-related jobs.

The UAW rejected what it called “the scare tactics” employed by the casinos, adding nothing is scarier than the health risks of being repeatedly exposed to secondhand smoke.

Bills that would eliminate the casino exemption from the state’s 16-year-old indoor smoking law are pending in the state Assembly and Senate. But neither has yet had a committee hearing, a necessary first step before a bill can move forward in the state Legislature.

The bills enjoy wide bipartisan backing, and the UAW said, “We are certain they will pass.”

“We will not stand idly by and watch our members choose between their health and their job,” said the letter. “We all have a right to breathe clean air at our workplaces.”

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Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at twitter.com/WayneParryAC