Atlantic City Gaming Leaders Voice Concerns, as Smoking Opponents File Lawsuit

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Two of the more powerful people in Atlantic City, Unite Here Local 54 President Donna DeCaprio and Mark Giannantonio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, have grave concerns about the city’s casino market.

(L to R) Lamont White, Nicole Vitola, and Pete Naccarelli are the cofounders of Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects. Their grassroots organization formed in New Jersey sued the state on Friday and asked a Superior Court judge to strike down a law that allows casino smoking in Atlantic City. (Image: HuffPost)

Atlantic City’s brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue (GGR) in January and February was below the same months in 2023. Resort traffic also dwindled during the first two months of the year.

DeCaprio and Giannantonio are using the poor start to elevate their position that state lawmakers in Trenton shouldn’t pass legislation that might further dampen the city’s economic outlook. Specifically, lawmakers are weighing a change to the 2006 New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act that allows the nine casinos down the shore to designate up to 25% of their gaming floor space for indoor tobacco consumption.

With in-person visitation and gaming revenue possibly slowing in Atlantic City, Giannantonio reasons now isn’t the time to enact a smoking ban.

This is not the time to enact laws, such as a full smoking ban, that will further erode customer visitation and revenues to our properties,” Giannantonio told the Press of Atlantic City.

“It is time for the City of Atlantic City and the State of New Jersey, in its oversight capacity over the city, to address the issues that are preventing economic growth and develop solutions that will increase visitation to Atlantic City,” added Giannantonio, who also heads up Resorts.

Workers File Lawsuit

CEASE, Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey’s Superior Court on Friday. The lawsuit names Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and the state’s Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston as defendants.

The litigation alleges that the state’s 2006 smoking law that includes carveouts for casinos wrongly jeopardizes the health of casino workers for the benefit of casino owners. The lawsuit asks the court to strike out the casino smoking loophole.

Legislation last year appeared to have the necessary support in the New Jersey Legislature to force the casinos to go smoke-free. But some lawmakers flip-flopped their positions after hearing from the casino lobby, which Giannantonio leads, that such a ban would devastate the Atlantic City gaming industry.

It’s disgusting to sacrifice workers’ health because of some backroom politics where they don’t even have to explain themselves,” CEASE attorney Nancy Smith told The New York Times.

CEASE began as a grassroots coalition in Atlantic City. The organization has since expanded with chapters in other states where casino smoking remains, including Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Virginia.

Ban Could Cost Jobs 

DeCaprio represents about 10K Atlantic City casino workers, but those union members don’t include table game dealers and slot attendants.

However, many Unite Here employees work on the casino floors where smoke lingers. The union represents housekeepers, bartenders, waiters, cooks, bellmen, doormen, and other service jobs.

DeCaprio shares Giannantonio’s position that a smoking ban would damage casino revenue and lead to job cuts.

“As lawmakers continue to proceed with the annual state budget process, representatives in the New Jersey Legislature must understand the perilous economic situation at hand for my members, and indeed all workers in Atlantic City,” DeCaprio said. “Not only is the overall in-person revenue troubling — but the size of the declines at some of the individual properties portends some serious instability for thousands of workers. The legislators need to take this into consideration as they consider policies that could compound the downward trends.”

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