A new study claims that the moment New Jersey passes a smoking ban at Atlantic City’s casinos, the revenue from gambling could fall by 11% and result in the loss of up to the equivalent of 2,500 jobs. However, a large group of employees of casinos in America’s Playground are of the opinion that the study, conducted from the Casino Association of New Jersey has a lot of incorrect assumptions and gambling companies have a tendency to prioritize profit over health and wellbeing of their employees.
Angela Martinelli, a 58-year-old dealer from Atlantic City, started working at The Claridge in 1995. She was frightened of being asked to work in the high-roller baccarat room that they described as “the Dungeon” due to the fact that it was known as filled with smoke from cigarettes.
“You needed to walk around to people in order to be able to spot them,” says Martinelli, who works for the Borgata, and is usually assigned to the smoking section for on two of her five shifts per week. “It was a smelly fog.”
In the past few years she began experiencing difficulties breathing. She’s now dependent on oxygen concentrators. The doctor suggests that smoking secondhand cigarettes is likely to be the reason.
In July, following the time that Atlantic City lifted the temporary smoking ban that was in place during the peak of the pandemic three long-time Borgata dealers created this group Casino Employees Against Smoking’s Effects (CEASE) to promote an end to smoking cigarettes inside. Lamont White, Pete Naccarelli and Nicole Vitola began the group on Facebook and since then, 22,000 casino employees have joined the group to try and end the loophole in law that permits smoking in certain sections of casinos.
“Bottom bottom line: They’re discussing about health over money,” says Naccarelli, 44, a dealer who has been in the casino since the age of 18. “People are dying in casinos, and people are becoming sick; the long-term consequences of secondhand smoke have been documented and costing lives. Smoking is not permitted at the beach since you’ll be hurting seagulls, but smoking cigarettes can be a problem directly in the front of me.”
The report, released by Spectrum Gaming Group, claims that a ban on cigars and cigarettes would cause an 10.9 percent decrease in gaming revenues as well as a potential loss of $93 million in non-gaming revenue , and approximately $44 million of tax revenues. The report declares that a prohibition would be detrimental to between 1,000 and 2500 jobs in casinos.
The reason, as per the study is that smokers are spending “significantly more” on gambling than non-smokers. Spectrum estimate that between 21 and 21 percent from Atlantic City casino visitors are smokers, but they account for between 26.1 percent and 31.3 percent of casinos’ earnings. Because smoking smokers are more likely to gamble, Spectrum puts a 25 50 to 25% premium in the form of value to casinos on players who smoke while playing.
The study predicted that the case where a smoker and nonsmoker played slot machines for two hours in a smoke-free establishment smoking, the smoker would lose more money than the smoker because of cigarettes breaks. A break of ten minutes for smoking cigarettes could decrease the smoker’s “time-on-device”–a crucial measure of engagement with customers that is linked with the amount a gambler will spend – by 17 percent.
Joe Lupo, president of both the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City and the Casino Association of New Jersey, states that a smoking ban could have a huge negative impact on this South Jersey town. The rate of wins per game in smoking rooms are at least 50 percent higher, on average, than games in nonsmoking areas.
“We are certain to be losing business,” says Lupo. “At the time of getting out of the pandemic when airline and car traffic to Atlantic City are both at 12-year lows and the gaming revenues of the city are just a fraction of what it was when we were at our high in 2000, it isn’t the best time to contemplate an additional negative impact on the city trying to recover.”
The casinos in Atlantic City are the few remaining places of refuge to smokers within this part of the Garden State. New Jersey banned indoor smoking in the year 2006 However, the law did leave an opening in casinos as well as simulcast venues. Smoking is permitted within Atlantic City casinos on up to 25 percent of the floor. Other states, such as Louisiana, Illinois and Delaware had banned smoking in casinos a few years ago. The state of Pennsylvania permits smoking in 50% of floors in casinos and Lupo states that the absence of smoking for New Jersey will result in gamblers moving to smoke-free areas in close proximity to Philadelphia.
Whatever the battle Atlantic City casinos fight, the ban could still be coming soon. Two bills are being considered by the New Jersey legislature–one in the assembly and another in the senate that would eliminate the smoking loophole in Atlantic City casinos. Both bills are scheduled for a vote by the beginning of March. Gov. Phil Murphy says he will be the first to sign a bill that closes the loophole should it land in his office.
New Jersey Sen. Vincent Polistina who is a Republican who has backed the ban, believes it’s just a matter of time before the “antiquated” smoking in casinos is banned at casinos.
“Secondhand smoking is a recognized carcinogen, so we should take care of our health first,” Polistina says. “I do not think that employees should be exposed to the smell of smoke on their eyes.”
He believes that the doom and gloom forecast by hospitality industry groups that banned smoking in restaurants and bars didn’t occur and he is convinced that similar things will happen in casinos.
If asked who could be the ones to lose if the bill becomes law, Polistina doesn’t hesitate. “I do not think anyone is going to lose,” he says. “I believe that you could have more people at the casinos that would be pleased to see no more smoke. If it’s passed I believe that employees will benefit, and I believe the operators will benefit when you have more people at the casinos.”
The gambling industry is the vitality in Atlantic City and Lupo claims that a ban could affect all businesses, not only hotels and casinos.
“We want an extension to review this in the future particularly since Pennsylvania is a smoker,” Lupo says. “We do not want another casino to be shut down. We don’t want lay off anyone.”
Spectrum’s study found that 13 percent of smokers could remain in casinos even If a ban were to be enacted. Additionally, a smoking ban wouldn’t affect any smokers or any gamblers who gambles in New Jersey, from gambling on the internet. New Jersey has the biggest online gaming market, including blackjack, mobile poker virtual slots, and many other casino games and is among the nation’s biggest sports betting markets on mobile devices.
The study also showed that non-smokers who enjoy the smoke-free atmosphere could increase their playing time and boost gross gaming revenues by 1 to 1.5 percent, however this wouldn’t be enough make up for the losses caused by smoking.
In the event of October, Bill Miller, chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, said to PlayNJ that a lot of casinos have claimed that smoking restrictions during Covid did not result in any decrease in revenue. Miller said that smoking bans in a variety of casinos did not have “detrimental consequences.”
Casino operators claim that air filtration systems eliminate the majority of the risks of smoking inside. In the course of the pandemic, New Jersey casinos banned smoking inside at all locations however, a month prior to when smoking indoors resumed in the state, it was reported that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) wrote a letter to the Casino Association of New Jersey in support of the prohibit smoking. “There is currently no available or expected ventilation system or air-cleaning device which can effectively manage or substantially reduce the health risks associated with tobacco smoke to a reasonable level,” the letter reads.
Lamont White, co-founder of CEASE and an agent at Borgata, says it’s about time things shift. “I’ve been in business since 1985, and you could smoke in a hospital or a plane, or barbershops,” says White. “Today the world is changing, except for casino gambling.”