Superior Court Judge Will Have Ruling “As Quickly As Possible” On AC Casino Smoking Ban Lawsuit

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Superior Court Judge Will Have Ruling “As Quickly As Possible” On AC Casino Smoking Ban Lawsuit

Earlier this week, a collection of Atlantic City casino employees and anti-smoking advocates were in court asking the judge to close a legal loophole regarding smoking in the gambling venues, and after hearing opening arguments, Superior Court Judge Patrick Bartels didn’t issue any decision, but plans to “as quickly as possible.”

This comes after employees of the casino throughout the community of Atlantic City casinos are suing the state over alleged violations of workers’ protections. The employees say it’s a “toxic” environment, while the state argues that making changes will put Atlantic City casinos at a disadvantage to nearby venues, which, in their eyes, could lead to job losses and reduced tax collections. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, gambling revenue at these retail casinos has stagnated while casinos throughout the country and NJ online casinos continue to see growth. 

While the state is arguing this from a financial perspective, the workers are coming at it from a health perspective as they want to work in a smoke-free environment. 

One of the Leading Groups is Pushing to Close the Legal Loophole

One of the leading groups associated with this push to close the legal loophole is C.E.A.S.E. (Casino Employees Against Smoking Harmful’s Effects). This push to ban smoking started in 2021, and the push has impacted other states like Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Virginia, which are also pushing for anti-smoking measures. 

In all, C.E.A.S.E. and the United Auto Workers brought forth the lawsuit. The United Auto Workers union represents table game dealers at Bally’s, Caesars, and Tropicana. 

Right now, smoking is capped in casinos to no more than 25% of the casino floor. However, there are complaints of secondhand smoke throughout the casino. 

The lawsuit is accusing the state of violating Atlantic City casino workers’ rights to equal protection and safety as they’re exempt from the 2006 Smoke-Free Ait Act. 

“We are seeking to end a special law which does a favor for casinos and seriously harms workers,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney representing C.E.A.S.E. and UAW. 

There's Another Side of the Coin

On the flipside, Deputy Attorney General Robert McGuire, the acting health commissioner who also represents Governor Phil Murphy, said that safety and happiness are more so freedoms than constitutional rights. He also mentioned that the Casino Revenue Fund, which collects money based on an 8% tax from retail casinos, assists programs for seniors and those with disabilities in the state. 

In 2024, McGuire says that the Casino Relief Fund will spend about $526 million on these programs. 

The UNITE Here Local 54 union is siding with the state. They represent about 10,000 workers and support the state because of the potential for job loss. 

“That has a net effect on the health of New Jersey citizens because those families that lose their jobs may not be able to pay for food, and therefore, it affects their health,” McGuire said Monday.

The attorney for the Casino Association of New Jersey, Christopher Porrino, also commented on the matter, speaking to the continuity of the smoking policies historically. 

“In a few weeks, it will be 46 years since the first casino opened in Atlantic City. From that day forward and every day since patrons of casinos have continuously smoked.”

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Richard Janvrin

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