Casino workers urge Gov. Murphy to support bills banning smoking on casino floor
A group of casino workers is calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to support bills that would ban smoking inside of Atlantic City’s casinos.
"You wouldn't understand the feeling you get when being on a game and someone walks up and you see them have a cigarette in their hand and you're just begging, ‘Please don't sit at my game,’” says Pete Naccarelli, co-founder of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE).
Naccarelli is also a game dealer. He and his supporters say that enough is enough when it comes to smoking in their place of work. They say that 2022 needs to be the year that smoking is banned on the casino floor.
A bill to ban the practice was introduced in the state Senate earlier this month.
"We need movement, so we are trying to reach out one by one to each senator, each legislator, to have them cosponsor and understand and kind of help move forward,” says CEASE co-founder Nicole Vitola.
Smoking was banned inside casinos for about 12 months during the pandemic. It was allowed again on July 4, 2021.
“It was great. I never called out a day, and I never had a mental health issue on the game because I knew I was protected,” Vitola says.
The governor has said several times that if a bill to ban smoking reached his desk, he would sign it. But the workers say that it is not enough.
"Many of us did vote for him, and we knew that that was his stand on this and we are just really urging him to get this done and get this done once and for all so that we can enjoy a smoke-free work environment,” says casino dealer Beverly Perna-Quinn.
Joe Lupo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, says in a statement, “Atlantic City casinos cater to a diverse and dynamic cross-section of guests, including smokers and nonsmokers. Under current law, smoking is restricted to only 25 percent of the casino floor space and is not available in any other location of the resort/property, which equates to approximately 10 percent of the total facility. Banning smoking completely and permanently would have long-term financial implications for the industry and the region, placing Atlantic City casinos at a competitive disadvantage with Pennsylvania casinos where smoking is permitted. A smoking ban would have a significant adverse effect on the City of Atlantic City, resulting in job losses, a decline in total customers and customer frequency, which would cause a decline in tax revenue that benefits the state and local economy, as well as New Jersey seniors and persons with disabilities. A decline in our customer base would also cause economic hardship to a large portion of the 20,000 employees who rely on the tips and customer volume that our industry provides. As the largest employer in Atlantic County, the casino industry is committed to growing and strengthening Atlantic City’s economy and keeping our employees and customers safe. Atlantic City continues to experience the challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the land-based casino industry saw a 5 percent decline in revenue in 2021 compared to 2019, which underscores the fact that land-based casinos have not recovered to pre-COVID levels. Any policy changes that will result in decreased visitation, job loss and additional economic harm to our region should be the last thing we consider as the industry works diligently to rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
But the workers say they are begging the legislators to put their health first.
"We're just trying to pay bills. We're just trying to get our children through school and college, and we have to deal with that because you don't want to risk your job,” says Perna-Quinn.
The bill is now headed to a state Senate health committee.